The term “long-distance caregiver” may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not an uncommon scenario in the U.S. Individuals of all ages, genders, and varying levels of income and social status who live an hour or more away from their loved one fit into this category. Responsibilities include everything from helping with finances (paying bills and/or managing money), arranging for in-home care, sourcing assisted living facilities, assisting with insurance benefits and claims, taking care of emergency and after-life paperwork, and ensuring the house is safe and installing modifications, if they’re needed. But just like in-home caregivers who experience a share of stress, so do those who live from a distance. Oftentimes, you need to institute the eyes, ears, and assistance of others — such as your loved one’s neighbors — to ensure their health and safety when you can’t be there. Here’s how to connect and stay in tune when you’re a caregiver from afar.
Take Advantage of Your Visits
The key to getting to know your loved one’s neighbors is taking advantage of each and every visit in an effort to connect face-to-face and set up a trustworthy and reliable network for your loved one in your absence. Whether you live in a rural or an urban environment, take time to research the community and attend as many events — including church-related functions, community center gatherings, and local service club meetings — to meet individuals who may be able to support your situation. While we live in a hand-held world, try to knock on the doors of neighbors to introduce yourself. Providing you have the time, arrange an intimate gathering at your loved one’s home where you can discuss your loved one’s situation in a light and convivial environment. Take inventory, and see who may be willing to stop by and check in on him/her on a weekly (or more frequent) basis. It’s also a good idea to create a phone and email tree in case of an emergency.
Ease Stress by Planning Ahead
Planning is everything. While you may not be able to be prevent every mishap (scams on the elderly are not uncommon), you can make an effort to prevent a disaster by delegating tasks to neighbors or other loved ones/friends living in the area (with their consent), giving financial power of attorney, and obtaining long-term care insurance.
Source Credible Organizations for Help
While it’s best if you get to know your loved one’s neighbors on your own, there are several credible organizations to help connect seniors with neighbors who can help with everything from running errands to preparing meals to regular check-ins. There are also resources for long-distance caregivers that can help you stay organized, obtain aid, and navigate the process from afar.
Take Advantage of Technology
While you want to respect your loved one’s privacy, technology is a great way to monitor and ensure the safety of your loved one from a distance. Devices such as emergency necklaces, video cameras, motion-detected monitoring systems, and face-to-face apps can give both of you peace of mind. Just make sure the two of you have a conversation about which technological advances they feel comfortable with, as well as any instructions for using it.
It’s normal to have feelings of a guilt as a long-distance caregiver, and you may feel that you can always do more for your loved one. Focus on the things that you are doing to feel reassured. Joining a support group with other long-distance caregivers can also be beneficial, as you’ll soon realize you’re not alone.
Claire Wentz is creator of caringfromafar.com and author of the upcoming book, Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers. Claire is a former home health nurse and recognizes that our aging population means many more people will become senior caregivers over the years. Specifically, she is interested in aiding and supporting to those caregivers who do not live near their loved ones. She hopes her writing will inform them, uplift them, and give them peace of mind when they need it.