Long-distance caregiving brings unique challenges

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If your weekly call to catch up with Mom has turned into multiple calls to help sort medical bills or remind her to pick up laundry, you have become a long-distance caregiver.

You’re not alone in your role. According to a 2020 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, nearly 48 million Americans provide care for another adult. Many do so from a distance, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping families apart.

Related: Staying in touch when you can’t visit residents

Caregiving from a distance can be complicated. It might be small things, like setting up automatic bill pay for your loved one, or larger things, like arranging transportation to doctor’s appointments. Helping from a distance adds layers of complexity to any task.

Look for signs more help is needed

When you call your aunt every Sunday night, listen to her tone of voice when she says she’s just fine. Does she really sound fine — or like she doesn’t want to be a bother?

Your loved one may truly be OK, but subtle clues could hint that they need some extra help. Instead of guessing, kindly ask if they feel like they’re keeping up with bills, household chores and other daily demands. If possible, pay them a visit. Doing so could illuminate needs that they didn’t think to share with you.

If you can’t visit, another way to check in on a loved one is to reach out to the people around them. If your dad has a weekly card game, ask his buddies how he is doing. They may pick up on something your dad hasn’t told you.

Tips to keep caregiving manageable

Here are five ways to provide care for your loved one from a distance:

  1. Provide emotional support. If your loved one seems upset about something, ask them more about it. Let them tell you how they feel. Pray with them and try to end the conversation on a positive note.
  2. Arrange for in-home care. Explore the benefits of hiring professional caregivers or home health aides.
  3. Arrange for short-term care. If you're particularly worried about a loved one's well-being while you're away form them, ask how they'd feel about a short-term stay (1-14 days) in respite care. This can ensure they get the short-term care they need while acting as a trial run for a potential move.
  4. Organize financial and medical paperwork. Be prepared. Develop a plan and have advance directives available in case of an emergency.
  5. Stay connected. Visit as often as possible to see that your loved one looks healthy and that their living arrangements are well suited to their needs. Set up regular calls and video chats. Send them a card, just to let them know you're thinking of them. Frequent communication will limit the distance between you and your loved one when you can't be with them.

Feeling overwhelmed in your caregiver role?

We can help.

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