When the health of a beloved friend or family member falters, the responsibility for their care may fall on people in far flung cities, states or even countries. This situation—long-distance caregiving—causes particular stresses.
Learning about a loved one’s medical care, financial issues, and daily needs are challenges that can be hard to address from a distance. Midnight health scares can be much more confusing and anxiety-ridden when the hospital or nursing home is a plane ride away. It can feel as though your loved one is in a war alone, and there’s no way to bring them aid.
Yet, this isn’t the case. There is help and there are many ways that families have managed these struggles. It’s won’t always be easy, but it is possible to find a way through this disorienting time. So, what are some tips to help handle the unique challenges of caring for your loved one at long range? Here are some ideas that have worked for others.
1) Let Technology Help
If multiple long-distance caregivers need to connect on care issues, apps and websites can be a lifeline. For example, a simple Google spreadsheet might be shared to list medications and health conditions. Or a website and app geared to caregiving, such as Waywiser.life, can be used to not only track standard medical issues with a trusted circle of caregivers, but also plan appointments, coordinate tasks, and manage events, ranging from surgery to family visits. Information can be quickly sent either through the app or perhaps a group text thread or WhatsApp chat. Group Zoom calls with a doctor might help everyone remain informed. A rotating digital picture frame can keep the images of loved ones ever-present. Consider the difficulties that your caregiving family and friends are facing, and brainstorm ways that technology might ease the way.
2) Stay Connected
Each situation will be different, but often, a painful challenge will be maintaining a connection with your loved one, especially if mental issues or severe physical ailments are part of the picture. If multiple family members are working together, then perhaps visits can be alternated monthly or every few months. A phone might be purchased that can be kept plugged in for regular Facetime calls. If your loved one is still living at their home, then several neighbors or local friends might be contacted and asked to check in on a particular day each week or month and text you about their visits. If a nursing home becomes involved, then staff could be enlisted to provide regular contact. Sometimes, the initial effort to set up these connective pathways can be a challenge, but since long-distance caregiving extends sometimes for a decade, that effort could provide increased peace of mind for years.
3) Tackle the Paperwork
This can be a long process, so it’s okay to approach it with a long-term frame of mind. The paperwork might be immense—financial, medical, legal, personal—so make a list of the items you may need and spend some time gathering everything together. It doesn’t have to be done all at once, and if your loved one is worried about privacy or autonomy, let them know that you simply want to be able to help in an emergency. An attorney can be enlisted to ensure that their wishes are safeguarded. The National Institute of Aging provides some recommendations for documents that may be needed in a crisis. A sampling includes: the personal (social security number, birthdate, medications, insurance, certificates (marriage, birth, death, adoption, citizenship), legal directives, employment records, and a phone list of friends, family, doctors, lawyers, financial advisers and a point person), financial (bank, account numbers, assets, investments, debt, credit cards, car titles), and legal (a living will plus power of attorney for health and/or general needs). Any actions you take to learn about these matters will eventually provide benefits for both you and your loved one.
Keep in mind that while planning helps, it’s also important to take time to enjoy precious moments with your loved one, so let yourself consider your worries and put in place some plans to address them. But also practice letting go of these issues so you can treasure your visits. And remember, nothing ever goes as planned, and that’s okay. You are doing your best in a complicated scenario, and your loved one is lucky to have you.
Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and be well! —KK
Please consider making a donation to the Kathi Koll Foundation to help make a difference in struggling family caregivers’ lives. Thank you!
Photo 165053818 / Digital Photo Frame © Dreamstime Info 849943