According to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), about 15% of all informal caregivers in the US reside more than an hour away from their senior loved ones. In fact, most long-distance caregivers live an average of 450 miles from their senior parent, relative, or friend, making it much more difficult to visit the loved one in their care regularly.
In addition to the many hours of traveling it takes to visit your long-distance loved one, caring for a senior from afar is both emotionally distressing and costly. From worrying about your loved one’s health and safety to the added cost of traveling back and forth regularly, long-distance caregiving is a challenging responsibility for many.
Moreover, other challenges affecting long-distance caregivers often include guilt, frustration, and worry. The following tips and resources will help eliminate some of the stress that long-distance caregivers often face.
Ways to Monitor Loved One from Afar
When you can’t be with your senior loved one each day of the week, technology can help to take some of the weight off your shoulders — as long as your loved one consents to it. For instance, home cameras, health- and- medication-tracking smartphone apps, and medical alert devices can all help you to keep a close eye on your loved one, even from afar.
When you’re not with your loved one, video calling apps like Skype, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger are other excellent options, as these services connect you to your relative or friend at any time. Suppose they don’t already have a computer to use these communication channels. In that case, you can find budget-friendly options with features like touch screens that don’t require a mouse, making it easier for seniors with arthritis to use in their hands. Be sure, however, that you’ve put all necessary security measures on the digital devices you use to communicate with each other, including their computer, smartphone, and tablet.
Understanding Emotional Needs
When you don’t see your senior loved one each day, it can be difficult to understand the signs that your parent, friend, or relative may be suffering from a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. When speaking to your loved one over the phone or via a video call, however, be sure to look out for the following:
● Signs of confusion, depressed mood, and memory loss
● Loss of interest in the activities he or she once enjoyed
● Social isolation and withdrawal
● Complaints of pain, loneliness, or any unusual physical changes
If you are worried that your long-distance loved one could be suffering from a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, encourage him or her to see a primary care doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can help your senior loved one understand his or her symptoms and develop a treatment plan, whether it be medication, therapy, or a combination of the two.
Helping to Maintain Independence
Taking proactive measures around the house and with their daily lifestyle is a great way to ensure your senior loved one stays safe. Take stock of the most common injuries seniors face at home and look for ways to help them avoid injury. This includes adding grab bars in hazardous areas like the bathroom, adding non-slip flooring, and adding improved lighting.
You also want to make sure your loved one keeps up with their nutritional needs. If going to the grocery store isn’t an option, look to services that drop off fresh groceries or precooked meals. You can also put together simple recipe lists or books, so your loved one doesn’t get bored with the same meals all the time.
Get to Know Their Friends, Doctors, and Neighbors
Unless your loved one lives near other relatives, you may not know who to contact in the event of an emergency. However, this is where any trusted neighbors, doctors, friends, visiting nurses, and physical therapists come into play. When speaking to your senior loved one, obtain the names and contact information of anyone they trust and interact with regularly. Then, contact these individuals to introduce yourself and find out if they may be able to check in on your loved one from time to time.
Before speaking to your senior parent’s medical team, however, you must obtain written permission from your loved one as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements.
While caring for a long-distance loved one has its challenges, these tips can help the emotional distress you may be experiencing. By communicating with your loved one’s care team and teaching your senior parent, friend, or relative to use technology, you’ll feel better knowing your long-distance loved one is safe, happy, and healthy — even when you can’t be near.
For more support and resources on providing your loved one with long-term care, visit LTC News for articles on home care, the latest long-term care headlines, and more.
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