6 Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers

Many adult children of mothers and fathers in their Golden Years end up becoming caregivers for their parents. Indeed, most caregivers in the United States are unpaid family members, most often adult children and spouses.

In the United States today, we have a highly mobile population. As a result, many family caregivers are far from the recipient of assistance. You may be one such individual, a family member who is to become a long-distance caregiver.

If that is the case, there are six tips you need to bear in mind as a means of enjoying success as a long-distance caregiver for an aging parent or other loved one:

  • Silence does not mean a crisis
  • In-person visits matter
  • Be aware of senior show timing
  • Create a shared reference guide
  • Make specific requests for assistance
  • Communication is fundamental

Silence Does Not Mean a Crisis

Merely because your senior parent or other loved one you are caregiving from afar goes silent for a few hours does not mean that something is amiss or has gone awry. The fact is that there are many reasons why your senior parent or other loved one might not answer the phone. Your loved one could be out of the house, your senior parent might be napping, or your elder loved one might have forgotten to charge or turn on their mobile phone.

Before you allow a missed call to let your imagination run wild, put a solid communication plan in place. For example, you can have your recipient agree to telephone or text you every day simultaneously. This can be a hard and fast agreement to communicate. If there needs to be a time change for that communication on a particular day, you and your loved one make that determination in advance. By implementing this communication plan, if you do not get the scheduled call, you have a logical reason to be concerned.

If memory issues make that approach too challenging for your senior parent or other loved one, consider enlisting a neighbor, friend, volunteer, or paid companion to stop by and send you a quick text or email that all is well. Be sure to organize contact information for a couple of your parent’s neighbors in the event of an emergency.

Consider purchasing a wearable emergency medical alert system for your mother, father, or other senior loved one for added peace of mind. You probably don’t want to call your loved one multiple times a day to check up on them, and it’s likely they aren’t keen on you phoning nonstop to make sure they’re okay either. Wearing a medical alert device means they can call for help at the push of a button no matter where they are if there is an emergency.

In-Person Visits Matter

If you are becoming or have become the long-distance caregiver for your senior parent or other loved one, you need to understand the importance of in-person visits. The reality is that long-distance caregivers are familiar with hearing that everything is fine when talking to their senior loved ones. There are also situations where a long-distance caregiver keeps hearing that everything is bad or horrible. The fact is that often neither extreme statement communicated by a senior loved one is factual. You cannot always take what a senior says to you at face value.

In the overall scheme of things, there is no substitute for in-person visits while caregiving. This holds true whether your loved ones live across town or across the country. You must make a point of regularly checking things out in person for yourself if you want to be an effective caregiver. Countless adult children have relied on their parents’ reports that all is well until they come home for a visit and are confronted by countless red flags and some very real problems.

On visits, be sure to keep an eye out for common warning signs that a senior loved one needs additional help. These signs include:

  • Difficulty in performing activities of daily living
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Changes in physical functioning
  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in mental status
  • Neglecting household tasks and responsibilities
  • Changes in cognition
  • Changes in memory
  • Changes in judgment

If you cannot make a regular visit, you need to enlist another trustworthy person to check in and report back to you. Another family member or friend can step up, or you may want to hire a geriatric care manager or an in-home caregiver to make regular assessments and fill you in on any changes or concerns as they arise.

Be Aware of Senior Show Timing

You need to be aware of what some geriatric care specialists refer to as senior show timing. As mentioned a moment ago, you need to visit regularly to see a senior loved one for whom you provide caregiving assistance. Alternatively, it would be best if you had someone you trust to make such visits for you.

Just because a senior’s home is clean and the fridge is stocked with healthy food does not mean this is a common situation. With significant frequency, elderly family members do not want to worry their caregivers or be any burden. As a result, senior loved ones strive to ensure they are on their “best behavior” before and during visits. They work hard to make everything appear fine on the surface. If you suspect this might be happening, consider making an unannounced visit to the home of your loved one. As an aside, seniors also tend to put on this type of act during doctor’s appointments.

When visiting a senior loved one for whom you provide caregiving assistance from afar, it is wise to do things like open drawers and cupboards. You will want to check inside the medicine cabinet. You should even look at the basement, attic, or garage.

In the grand scheme of things, snooping is not a good idea. However, when you are a long-distance caregiver, this type of spot-checking is necessary to ensure that your loved one is safe.  

Create a Shared Reference Guide

We have owner’s manuals for our cars and major household appliances, so why not create one for ourselves? If you are a caregiver, particularly a long-distance caregiver, a highly important resource is a reference guide to your loved one’s life.

This reference guide should include your senior loved one’s complete health history, legal documents, and basic financial information. It should also include emergency contacts, general medical information, and a do-not-resuscitate order if applicable.

This reference guide compiles all vital information in one place, so you don’t have to spend time searching when you need something. You will want to make two copies of most of the information in the file – one for you and one to be maintained at your senior loved one’s residence.

You may want to consider eliminating things like financial account numbers and the like from the copy of the reference guide that will be kept at your senior loved one’s home. This security step aids in protecting against someone else improperly accessing and taking advantage of this important information.

Make Specific Requests for Assistance

If you are a long-distance caregiver and seek assistance from others, you must keep an important fact in mind. When you make requests for assistance from others, you need to make such requests very specific.

Vague requests for assistance sometimes are ignored or do not wind up being particularly beneficial. Consider making a list of possible issues or problem areas that your loved one might be experiencing. Then request assistance from a trusted person to monitor those specific items.

Communication is Fundamental

Communication is crucial if you are a long-distance caregiver for a senior parent or other loved one. Indeed, much of what has been discussed in this article has an element of communication associated with it.

Good communication needs to exist between:

  • Caregiver and care recipient
  • Caregiver and other family members
  • Caregiver and trusted individual who will assist locally regarding care recipient
  • Caregiver and senior loved one’s primary care physician
  • Caregiver and all other care team members

Consider Assisted Living

Finally, due to the inherent challenges associated with long-distance caregivers, and the associated need to obtain assistance from others, you and your senior parent might want to weigh and balance the prospect of more assisted living for your elder loved one.

Assisted living is a type of long-term care that provides assistance with activities of daily living, and medication management, for seniors who need some help but do not require the full-time care of a nursing home. Services offered in assisted living facilities vary by location but may include meals, housekeeping, medication management, and social activities.

Assisted living is the perfect blend of independence and support for many seniors. It allows them to live in their own home or community while getting help with the tasks they find challenging. And because assisted living facilities offer a variety of social activities, residents can stay connected with friends and loved ones.

If you are a long-distance caregiver and are considering assisted living for a loved one, it is important to do your research. There are many different assisted living facilities, so be sure to find one that fits the person’s needs and budget. You can also ask family and friends for recommendations or contact the local Area Agency on Aging serving your senior loved one’s community for a list of facilities in the area.