Caring for an elderly loved one is a full-time job that requires consideration of each and every detail of the patient’s daily life. But what about long-distance caregiving? While it doesn’t require you to be by their side physically, the logistics of managing caregivers, finances, scheduling, and more can be a real challenge. If you find yourself in the role of a long-distance caregiver, it can be helpful to learn more about the resources that are at your fingertips.
The fact is, long-distance caregivers come in as many different varieties as there are patients. The role you play will depend on the needs of the person you’re taking care of. When caring for a patient in their home, care may include daily visits, financial management, household chores, and medical advocacy. Long-distance caregivers need to overcome the logistical hurdle of completing all these tasks from afar.
In these cases, communication is key. In order to effectively provide care, you need to stay in the loop regarding your elderly parent’s day-to-day life. Some areas you can help include:
Since you can’t see your loved one in person on a regular basis, all of their day-to-day tasks need to be managed by an appointed caregiver or service. A lot of work goes into caring for a loved one, so make sure all of these services are accounted for:
Luckily, most of our bills and banking can be done online these days, giving you easy access to your loved one’s finances. As long as you have the login information, you can help take the stress out of your parent's financial life. You can even set up automatic bill payments to make the process as hassle-free as possible.
Insurance and medication coverage can be a bit more complicated to manage remotely, though there are some local programs to help get you started. Keep in mind that annual reviews are often required to make sure the patient is getting the coverage they need.
One of the most valuable tasks a long-distance caregiver can provide to their patients is coordinating all the research, appointments, paperwork, and other pieces of information. While many other services can be outsourced to hired help, this is one role that’s best filled by a family member.
Even when specific tasks are split among several friends and family members, it is still often a good idea to have a single person who holds it all together. This centralized caregiver should be the one to keep the team informed and updated. If they are remote, it’s important that they stay in constant communication with the patient.
Often, our elderly loved ones don’t have the mental capacity to make informed decisions about their future. Questions like moving into a long-term care facility, estate planning, and caring for pets can be decided by a long-distance caregiver and then coordinated with those closer at hand.
Finally, one of a caregiver’s most important roles is to provide emotional support to their patient. While doing so long distance isn’t always ideal, there are still plenty of ways to ensure you give them the support they need. Regular phone and video calls are a good place to start, where they can voice any needs or concerns they have or just enjoy a casual chat.
Now that you understand a bit more about what a long-distance caregiver’s role looks like, you can get started preparing the specifics. There are a lot of details to keep in mind, so it helps to take the process step by step.
The most important factor when coordinating long-distance care is making sure everyone is on the same page. Using the phone or video call service, you can gather friends, family, and other caregivers to assign responsibilities and develop a plan that will accommodate everyone’s needs and availability.
Of course, your patient should be as involved in the process as possible. Remember to ask for their input to ensure they’re getting the care they want.
Having a single person who’s ultimately responsible for the patient’s well-being will simplify the overall process. This person should have written permission to receive financial and medical information. This doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who lives near the patient, just as long as they have the time and attention to coordinate their care.
The patient’s living arrangements play a big role in their quality of life and the type of care they receive. Ultimately, their needs need to be balanced with your own financial limitations, though there is a variety of options available.
If their health is relatively good, hiring in-home care is the first option to consider. Full-time or part-time caregivers will allow them maximum freedom and quality of life by remaining in the environment that is most familiar to them.
Senior living communities are another option, where you can rest assured that they will receive around-the-clock care. Different communities provide a range of different accommodations, like assisted living and memory care, depending on the patient’s needs. One advantage of senior living centers is they provide community and activities to keep the patient as engaged and fulfilled as possible.
No matter what kind of living arrangements you decide on, in-person visits are always important. Once you start providing long-term care, talk to your network of friends and family to set up a schedule of visits for your patient to look forward to. These visits can be opportunities for families to provide additional care or just spend some quality time with their loved one. Even a single meal can make a big difference.
Nobody is born a natural caregiver, and for most people, it takes experience before they’re confident in their skills. That means the best thing you can do to start is to equip yourself with a broad toolkit of resources to take advantage of. This can include informational resources to help you be a better caregiver, resources that can connect your loved one with the community, or ways to access financial aid.
Research is the best way to find resources that are relevant to your needs, but here are a few helpful ones to get started:
When giving care remotely, it’s important to have a plan in place that will let you respond to emergencies without delay, as if you were really there. While it might sound like a challenge, the truth is that a combination of careful planning and a reliable support network can get the job done.
Make sure it’s absolutely clear who is responsible for transportation and coordination in case of an emergency. Keep a complete list of contact information that is available to everyone. You can even have your patient keep a travel bag with clothing, toiletries, and other essentials that can be easily grabbed when they need to leave quickly.
Once you have the basics of long-distance care established, your day-to-day responsibilities get a little easier to manage.
By now, you’re probably beginning to recognize that a big part of long-distance caregiving means staging on top of names, dates, appointments, medications, and other pieces of information. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but by keeping all of this information organized, it becomes much easier.
Try keeping a separate datebook and even a hand-written phone number book rather than storing it on your phone with all your personal information. Any specific documents can be kept in a folder. Keeping everything in one place means you always know where it is, allowing you to compartmentalize it from the rest of your life.
In many cases, giving care means having the right medical supplies and equipment on hand. Luckily, remote caregivers can get their loved ones the medical supplies they need, delivered straight to their door. Whether you’re looking for mobility devices like walkers and rollators, supports for ankles and knees, or living or safety aids to make your patient’s life easier, the solution may be just a click away.
Caregiver burnout is a real thing and can have a serious impact on your health and the health of your patient. To avoid it, make sure you schedule breaks for yourself where you can take a day, week, or more away from your responsibilities. For shorter vacations, a friend or family member can fill in for you. If you need to take a longer break, hiring respite care services is another option.
If possible, you should try to schedule in-person visits with your long-distance patient, even if it’s infrequent. When you do see them, use the opportunity to help in ways you aren’t able to from far away. Some examples include making sure their home and appliances are in good condition, that their living space is set up for safety, and check to see that they have enough clothing to wear. You can also check in with your primary in-person caregiver to make sure they have everything they need to complete their job.
While it’s always important to trust the expertise of your patient’s doctors, helping them navigate treatment means informing yourself on their health needs. This will allow you to understand the course of their illness and plan ahead for potential emergencies.
If you’re looking for specific information on providing care for different diseases, see our range of caregiver guides:
You can get basic caregiver training from the American Red Cross or other local organizations. While this isn’t the same thing as having a nurse on hand, it can make you better equipped to provide medical support and respond to emergencies. In some cases, this training can be covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
Everyone has their own way of staying connected, and this is especially true of older adults who may not be familiar with the technology. Talk to them about their preferences and see if the phone, video chat, or email is a more comfortable option for them.
It’s also a good idea to talk to their support network and discuss the best ways to stay in touch with each other. If you don’t like the idea of being bombarded by text messages on a daily basis, now’s the time to say so.
Different patients need different amounts of care and attention. If you find that you and your support team are not able to handle all the responsibilities, it’s time to hire outside help. A geriatric care manager can help you evaluate the needs of your loved one and coordinate services for you.
Having power of attorney can allow you or another member of your family to make decisions on behalf of your patient if they aren’t able to do so themselves. While it might not be an easy conversation, it can be an important way to manage health care, legal needs, and finances near the end of their life.
Long-distance caregiving is never going to look exactly like in-person care, though with the right planning, it can still be just as good. The key is taking advantage of all the resources at your disposal and staying organized every step of the way. While you might not have the process perfected at first, a bit of experience can go a long way.