Caring for a Loved One from a Distance

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November is National Family Caregivers Month. Many people provide care for their family members, often aging parents. But what if the family member who needs care doesn’t live near you? Many families are spread out across the country and even around the world. When it comes to caring for each other, distance can be a big barrier. But there are still many ways you can help your loved ones from afar.

Offer emotional support. Check in with your loved one on a regular basis. Ask how he or she is doing. See if your loved one needs any help. And be a good listener. Your loved one may be anxious, lonely, frustrated, or in pain. Having someone lend a sympathetic ear can provide a lot of comfort. Let your loved one know how much you care. If you have the time and the resources, try to visit in person now and then.

Research information online. Look up how to treat or manage any health conditions your loved one has. Find out what options are available for in-home care, such as nurses or home health aides. See if there are any state or federal respite care programs or services available to your loved one. Research assisted living facilities or nursing homes that best meet your loved one’s needs.

Get paperwork in order. Help gather and maintain any paperwork related to your loved one’s health. That might include a detailed health history, health records, names and phone numbers of doctors, and health insurance information. You can also organize any financial records. That might include bills; insurance policies; and bank, credit card, and mortgage statements. And you can get any legal documents in order. That might include a will, a trust, an advance directive, or a power of attorney. Your loved one may not have some of these legal documents in place. In that case, you could speak with an attorney to get that process started, with your loved one’s consent.

Help coordinate care. Even from a distance, you can help schedule doctor’s appointments. You can also arrange for in-home care from nurses and home health aides. You can even hire people to help your loved one with daily tasks and household chores. That might include someone to deliver groceries, someone to help with cooking and cleaning, and someone to help with the maintenance and upkeep of the house.

Provide financial support. If you have the resources, you can help pay for your loved one’s care. You may be able to hire a geriatric care manager to be the primary caregiver in your place. If another relative is able to be the primary care giver, you can help cover the costs of care. For instance, you can offer to cover any costs that are not covered by your loved one’s insurance.

Start by finding out what would be helpful. Talk to your loved one to find out what help he or she needs. Or talk to your loved one’s primary caregiver. That might be a spouse, a relative, or a friend. That person may know better what sort of help your loved one needs. Then consider your strengths, skills, and resources. How do you think you could best help meet those needs?

Caring for a family member or loved one from a distance can be very rewarding and also very challenging. But there are ways you can help. For more detailed guidance, visit the website for the National Institute on Aging to learn more about long-distance caregiving.