By Claire Wentz
About 15 percent of the caregivers in the U.S. are considered long-distance caregivers. According to the National Council on Aging, that number is expected to double by the year 2020. And on average, long-distance caregivers live around seven hours of travel time apart from the person in their care. While these stats may show that being a long-term caregiver is completely normal and feasible, they won’t help make the job any easier. It’s a tough task, but it’s an important one. Here’s how to ensure your loved one is completely cared for from afar (and how to keep your own sanity as well).
First things first: Get a handle on all their paperwork
You don’t have to live next door to help get your loved one organized. A person 65 or older, for instance, can have upwards of a few dozen important personal and financial documents that are required to access important services or healthcare, file taxes, and more. Beyond that, “paperwork” can refer to their bills as well. You can set up online and automatic bill pay to lighten their load at the same time you get all of their important documents in order and under your supervision.
Help them with basic daily tasks from afar
Apps, online services, and internet-enabled delivery services have made caring for someone from afar much easier over the past few years. With a few taps from hundreds of miles away on your couch, you can do so much for your loved one. Some examples:
- Consider scheduling healthy, easy-to-prepare food through a meal kit delivery service. Your loved one (or their in-home caretaker) can make nutritious meals without having to head to the grocery. Sites like Consumers Advocate can help you determine the best meal service for your loved one’s needs.
- Call for transportation when they need to get somewhere. Whether it’s a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday afternoon, a movie on Friday night, or church on Sunday morning, you can schedule a ride for them through apps like Uber or Lyft, pay for it, and track their location from hundreds of miles away.
- Use apps to help them with around-the-house chores. Keep them injury- and stress-free by using an app like TaskRabbit to schedule help to fix house problems or an app like Tidy to hire a house cleaner.
Keep in constant contact with everyone involved in their care
As a long-distance caregiver you will rely on a few — maybe a dozen — other people to help care for your loved one. This team could include in-home nurses, part-time care workers, housekeepers, friends, other family members, clergy, and so on. It’s vital that you create some sort of community portal so everyone stays up to date and on the same page about your loved one’s care. Email, Facebook groups, text threads, and apps like Slack can help you do this. Any app designed for communication among company team members at a business, for example, is a good option. That’s because every person involved in your loved one’s care comprises one big team with one singular focus: their safety, happiness, and overall well-being.
Most importantly, form a relationship with their primary care doctor
As their primary caregiver you’ll be the one consulting your loved one’s primary care physician and helping them make decisions — even if you’re miles away. Consider this advice on gaining this crucial access from the Mayo Clinic:
“Be sure to have your loved one sign a release allowing the doctor to discuss medical issues with you — and keep a backup copy in your files. You may also be able to log into your loved one’s medical records online to see test results, medications, after-visit summaries and more.”
It’s also helpful to talk to your loved one about handling their medical decisions.
Give yourself peace of mind with emergency alert technology
The best medical alert systems are easy-to-use, have stellar customer service, and are affordable. They will also have fall detection and automatic notification. No matter how many people are caring for your loved one, there will still be times when they’re alone. You can ensure they are never truly without help by equipping them with a top-rated alert device. Not only will this keep them safer, but it will drastically reduce your stress level as well.
Don’t forget to be your own caregiver
If you think that only traditional caregivers can experience fatigue, stress, and anxiety about caregiving, then you’re mistaken. Caregiver burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by the prolonged and overwhelming stress of caregiving.” It’s inevitable that even long-distance caregivers will feel this way sometimes, but it’s your job to minimize burnout on a routine basis. That’s because it’s impossible for you to be a good caregiver if you yourself are not cared for. Practice self-care. Don’t let it be optional.
What does long-distance caregiving success actually look like? If your loved one is happy and healthy, you’re involved in their care as much as you can be, you have a solid team that you can truly rely on, and you have found ways to deal with stress and prevent caregiver burnout — well, that’s a good sign of success. Remember: caregiving is tough, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things you can do for someone you love.
Claire Wentz is creator of caringfromafar.com and author of the upcoming book, Caring from Afar: A Comprehensive Guide for Long-Distance Senior Caregivers.