Caring for Elderly Loved Ones Who Don’t Live Near You

Elderly man looking out windowIf you live an hour or more away from your aging loved one who needs help, you can probably consider yourself a long-distance caregiver. Even though distance makes it more difficult for you to participate in your loved one’s care, there are resources and tips that can help to make it easier. Even if there is a family member or other caregiver nearby, or your loved one lives in a care facility, there are many things you can do to provide emotional support and even help with care needs via the phone, email or during infrequent visits.

What can I do?
Too often, family members who live out-of-town assume there is nothing they can do to help, leaving a close-by caregiver to feel overburdened and alone. Because this person might not know what they could delegate to you, taking the initiative yourself and volunteering to do things you know you could do can be a big relief. For example, I have a not-so-nearby sister-in-law who volunteered to make regular visits to Dad in his assisted living apartment, assess his needs for personal products, favorite snacks, medical supplies, comfortable pants and other things she could shop for and bring to him. Not having to worry about whether or not he had enough incontinence products, as well as these other things on hand was a huge help to me.
Here are some ideas to get you thinking about what you could do to help, even from a distance: 

Ask How You Can Be Most Helpful
Be sensitive to the feelings of any caregivers already on the job. Compliment them on what they are already doing, and then ask them and the care recipient how you can be most helpful. Talk to friends and neighbors who know your loved one to see if they have suggestions about ways to help. Then, if you see or hear about needs that aren’t being met, make suggestions for ways you could fill them, even if only to make the primary caregiver’s life easier.

Research and Identify Services in the Community
Searching online is a good way to quickly find reputable resources that will be there when you can’t. Here are a few potentially helpful places to look:

Serve as an Information Coordinator
Having one person in the family responsible for sharing information with everyone can be a big help. This could be done by way of mass emails, texts, conference calls, Skype or other information channels. If you are that person, you should:

  • Keep a list online or put together a notebook of all contact information for family members, friends and the healthcare team. Include all the vital information about medical care, social services, financial issues, and so on. Make copies for other caregivers, and keep it up-to-date.
  • Provide regular updates on your loved ones condition, as well as current healthcare needs
  • Report on the findings of doctor visits and medication changes
  • Research health problems or medicines to help other family members make arrangements to meet new needs
  • Share what you’ve learned about available resources
  • Clarify and share information on insurance benefits and claims

Coordinate Care and Services
As part of your job as Information Coordinator, you could keep track of when medical appointments are due, make a call to schedule them and even arrange for transportation to and from the doctor’s office. If the person has memory or cognitive issues, you could arrange for a neighbor or family member to be there to ask questions and take notes. Be sure to get permission/sign a release form allowing the Dr. and other members of the healthcare team to share results with you or other family members.
If other services are needed on a regular basis, you could call to arrange for and follow up on those, too. Meals on wheels, laundry service, transportation to events, help with chores and errands, yard work and even personal care can be arranged through local services. See the Dakota Home Care Website for services we offer and how to arrange for an in-home evaluation.

Make the Most of Your Visits
If you can make only infrequent visits to your love one’s home, it’s a good idea to make a list of care needs you should reassess every time you are there. Become well acquainted with their living situation and healthcare needs so that you will notice any changes that have occurred and what you might do to help. Here are some examples:

  • Is there food in the refrigerator? Is it spoiled? Is the person eating regular meals? Could you arrange for groceries or meals to be delivered?
  • Are there piles of unopened mail? Are the bills being paid? Could you pay the bills and take care of other financial needs if mail was forwarded to your home?
  • Are there changes to personal appearance and grooming? Could you arrange for in-home care?
  • How are family caregivers doing who live nearby? Do they have the information and support they need? Could you give them some respite care while you are there or arrange for other breaks?
  • Do additional safety precautions need to be taken in the home? Could you schedule and oversee anything you can’t do yourself?
  • Is your loved one still participating in meaningful activities and social interaction? Could you arrange for nearby neighbors, friends or family members to ensure this is still happening?
  • While you are together, take time to reconnect by talking, listening to music, going for a walk or participating in activities you enjoy together. 

Be kind to yourself. Living out of town does not mean you aren’t involved or that you don’t care. Get support by connecting with others who are long-distance caregivers through the Alzheimer’s online community, your church, community organizations and a network of friends, neighbors and family members.

Dakota Home Care Services
The goal of Dakota Home Care is to “Keep home an option for everyone!” We provide medical and non-medical services that can help you care for your loved one, whether you live nearby or miles away. Every situation is different. Dakota Home Care assigns experienced Home Health Aides and nurse managers to assess and provide at home care for their clients as well as support and education for their families. We work with you and your healthcare team to draft and implement an individualized plan of care. To receive a free consultation for at home care, call (701) 663-5373.

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