A Family Guide to Long Distance Caregiving

Everyone needs a little help from time to time, and for an older parent, the support of adult children can play a key role in maintaining their long-term health, safety and independence.

While we all want to be physically “there” for our loved ones, sometimes circumstances make that impossible. Fortunately for the 37.1 million Americans who provide some form of unpaid care to adults over 65, providing assistance from afar has never been more possible or effective. Read on to learn how you can long-distance support to an older loved one.  Woman looking at cell phone

Discuss and identify your loved one’s needs

Before beginning this process, it is key that you not only understand your loved one’s needs, but ensure they agree to the idea of securing support. Help only works if the recipient is willing to receive it, and they may have boundaries around their home or personal privacy they wish to maintain.

During these conversations, always take time to put yourself in your loved one’s position, ask questions, and work together to identify challenges where outside support can help. Consider starting this conversation by asking the question, “What are some of the things that worry you most these days?” or, “What parts of your day-to-day do you look forward to least or leave you most tired?”

If you genuinely feel like your loved one needs support, but they downplay their needs, consider speaking with an area social worker, doctor, or geriatric care manager who can serve as an impartial third party and provide guidance.

Building a support network

Even if you cannot be physically present with your loved one, you can play a key role in building a support network that ensures help is never too far away. To do this, begin by listing family members and friends (yours and those of your loved one.) When building out this group, don’t restrict yourself people local to your loved one – more than one person can provide valuable long-distance support!

Start conversations about the wellbeing of your loved one and determine if your contacts are willing and able to provide some degree of support. Remember that this support can take many forms – providing travel assistance to medical appointments, paying period visits to your loved one’s home, or more direct types of care, like meal preparation or assistance with household tasks

Once you have found a group of willing helpers trusted by you and your loved one, the conversation becomes one of planning and scheduling. Free online tools like Care Calendar or Lotsa Helping Hands can help organize efforts and allow everyone in the network to monitor and volunteer for upcoming tasks.

Remember, different people will be able to provide different amounts and types of support. Providing long-term support to an older loved one is more marathon than sprint. The care network you create isn’t just about caring for your loved one in need – it’s also a place for caregivers to support one another and lower individual risk of caregiver stress and burnout.

How to help from afar

With your team of like-minded caregivers in place and in-person tasks managed, now you can turn to the many ways you can provide your loved one support from afar:

  • Identify, research, and recommend local resources: One valuable way to assist from afar is to identify resources that can benefit your loved one. These can include adult day programs, interesting events in the community, or local non-profit/volunteer organizations like Meals on Wheels.

Not only do these programs provide your loved one with valuable social interactions, but can also fill in gaps their caregiver network currently can’t fill.

  • Assist with financial management: With the permission of your loved one, look into ways you can help manage routine financial transactions like paying utility/credit card bills, rent/mortgage, and other recurring transactions. Doing so will free their time and potentially lower their risk of exposure to scams.

Additionally, consider researching and discussing Powers of Attorney with your loved one so you can fully step into this role should they suddenly become unable due to illness or injury.

Alternatively, consider providing financial support to your loved one’s local caregiver network. Offsetting the cost of travel, or assisting with grocery bills can be a great way to provide support from afar.

  • Attend medical appointments virtually: A lot of information can be shared in even a brief doctor’s visit, and many older adults report feeling overwhelmed during these encounters. While you may not be able to join them in-person, you can work with your loved one’s medical providers to participate in these meetings virtually, allowing you to provide real-time support, take notes, and ask questions.
  • Digital shopping: Keeping your loved one’s home supplied with good food, hygienic supplies, and day-to-day necessities doesn’t require being physically present. Consider setting up recurring online purchase/delivery of groceries for your loved one, working together to build a list of items they wish to keep stocked.

Depending on the size and frequency of these orders, consider arranging for a local helper to be present to receive these packages, or arrange to have these items delivered directly to your loved one’s door.

  • Stay socially engaged: Not every interaction with your loved one needs to center around solving a particular problem. While there is almost always more to do, don’t forget the value of a friendly call. Reminiscing about shared memories, sharing a funny story, or simply asking your loved one how their day went can go a long way towards staving off social isolation and providing needed mental stimulation.
  • Medication management: If your loved one takes one or more prescription medications to manage an ongoing condition, consider arranging a weekly check-in to see if they are in need of a refill and arranging these with their local pharmacy.

Depending on your loved one, it may also be beneficial to make daily check-in calls (or setting shared digital reminders) to ensure they are following their healthcare provider’s guidance on when and how to take their medication.

Filling in gaps

As you can see, there are countless ways you can provide your loved one with care and support without being in the same room. That said, having a dedicated caregiver physically present will always provide a family with that extra peace of mind.

If you are struggling to build a reliable local support network for your loved one, your loved one’s needs have expanded beyond what the network can provide, or local caregivers are in need of a break, home health care services can bridge the gap on your loved one’s terms.

Arranging for a professional home caregiver not only provides your loved one with hands-on support at home, but additional oversight in the form of an agency’s care coordinator and nursing staff. These experienced professionals can help your loved one avoid common complications associated with aging-in-place, and can further coordinate local care.

If you are assisting a loved one from afar and feel they could benefit from further support, now might be the time to call SelectCare and learn how our team of home health care experts help New Yorkers live happier, healthier lives in their long-time homes.

To learn more, request a free in-home guide, or read testimonials from the SelectCare community.