Caregiving can be challenging when you live in the same area as a loved one, but it can be even trickier if you’re long-distance. Thankfully, social media and communication apps make it easier than ever to be there for someone, even if you’re not nearby. The term “distance caregiver” usually refers to someone living 100 miles or more from the person for whom they’re caring.1 There are approximately five to seven million distance caregivers in the United States right now.2
There’s no doubt about it, when you’re a long-distance caregiver the hurdles are different, especially if you’re employed. Many caregivers miss work occasionally to take loved ones to appointments or follow-ups or care for their loved one, as well as rearrange schedules considerably, reduce work, or even stop working altogether. Due to their long-distance situation, the social support that “regular” caregivers have might not be as accessible, and the constant stress of traveling back and forth can contribute to stress and feelings of isolation.
Though it poses some challenges, long-distance caregiving is doable. Here are some tips to help you with caring for a loved one from far away.
Care for others, but don’t forget about yourself
Self-care is important anyway, but even more so when you’re caring for another person. That old adage that you “can’t pour from an empty cup” is true. When you’re in the moment or if you’re so scheduled between work, family, social, personal, and caregiving obligations, you might not realize how much you’re neglecting your own stress levels or health. Taking care of yourself isn’t self-indulgence; it’s a necessity. If you get sick or burnt out, you can’t appropriately provide caregiving. Take the time to get fresh air daily, try to exercise, eat well, and practice stress reduction or mindfulness. If need be, seek professional help via a counselor for strategies for well-being.
Prioritize connection and communication
Especially if you’re working in conjunction with on-site or other caregivers who live near your loved one, it’s important that everyone’s on the same page with schedules, appointments, who is doing what, and so forth. One way to do this is to put together a shared Google calendar, so everyone has access to the same schedules and information. You might also check out apps and websites like CareZone or Caring Bridge that help organize all necessary medical information and facilitate communication.3,4 Don’t forget about your loved one’s need for connection, either – do they have a way of easily communicating with others, like a cell phone or landline in their room? Do they know how to use their cell phone?
When you do visit with your loved one, make every minute count. Plan ahead and organize your visit to the best of your ability. It might feel like you have a ton of things to get done and a handful of appointments, but ask your loved one what they would like to do or what they need to accomplish. Set some goals for the visit and see what practical things need to be addressed, like clothing, laundry, and house repairs or housework. On the other hand, don’t forget about the reason you’re there in the first place: to spend time with your loved one. Go see a movie with them, take them to church or synagogue – do something with them that they enjoy. It will be a good stress reliever and nice breather for both of you.
Find local resources
If you live far away, even though they might have a local caregiver and care team, it’s always good to put together a list of local resources for your loved one. This can include the contact information of pharmacies, senior centers, support groups, elder care, hospice, libraries, and more.
You are one person, and one person only. You can’t do everything, nor should you – no matter how much you might want to. Take a good, honest look at your responsibilities and be realistic about what you can do, caregiving-wise. Will your job allow you to work remotely at all? Are you able to handle this financially, with travel and missed work time? Do you have small children and lots of other familial responsibilities? Are you able to juggle the responsibilities of your own life while still caring for your loved one? These aren’t easy things to look at head-on, but it’s important.
What have you found helpful in your experience of long-distance caregiving?
Yuko E. Strategies for long-distance caregiving. New York Times. September 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/well/live/strategies-for-long-distance-caregiving.html Accessed September 12, 2018.
Cagle JG, Munn JC. Long distance caregiving: A systematic review of the literature. J Gerontol Soc Work. 2012; 55(8): 682-707. Doi: 10.1080/01634372.2012.703763 Accessed September 12, 2018.
CareZone website. https://carezone.com/home Accessed September 13, 2018.
Caring Bridge website. https://www.caringbridge.org/?gclid=CjwKCAjwj4zaBRABEiwA0xwsP4jcTdBvB7PGx3y2buOdyLME6pwLPoYa9mz7O_d_Ekeyv7bEJ22XwxoCwXsQAvD_BwE Accessed September 13, 2018.