As our aging population continues to grow, increasing numbers of adult children and other caregivers are finding themselves challenged with providing care for elderly parents and other family members living far away. As a result, there are lots of questions about long-distance care-giving, what it is and what it entails. We thought we’d address some of the major questions and concerns here:
What exactly is long-distance care-giving?
Long distance caregivers provide a wide variety of services, depending on the age, capabilities, needs, and locations of the person or persons receiving that care. Generally, a long-distance caregiver is someone who lives an hour or more away from the care recipient. The level of responsibility and service provided varies and can include simply being available and ready to respond in case of emergencies, providing help with finances and home maintenance, arranging and managing in-home care, and providing in-person, regular assistance.
How can I know if the person I’m responsible for really needs help even though they say they’re OK?
Ascertaining the true condition or situation of a loved one may take a little detective work, such as asking questions during phone calls phrased in such a way that require a more detailed or specific answer; enlisting local help from nearby family members, friends, neighbors, doctors, or co-workers who can periodically look in on the loved one; or scheduling a regular, periodic check-in by a professional home health services provider, with the loved one’s permission.
I’m far away – what can I really do?
Quite a bit. Often the best things a long-distance caregiver can provide are emotional support, a willingness to listen, and periodic relief for primary caregivers. For elderly loved ones who may be unfamiliar with or unable to use the Internet, long-distance caregivers can provide assistance through online research and making care or home maintenance arrangements.
Long-distance caregiving is putting a real strain on our entire family – how can we resolve who does what?
Family issues can be difficult to resolve because emotions and conflicting schedules and attitudes can be a challenge. Face-to-face family meetings are a good place to start because they avoid the misunderstandings that can result from phone calls and emails. Try to determine what various family members are willing and unwilling to do and match up responsibilities with what they’re willing and capable of doing. Encourage members to periodically relieve others who are providing more care so the primary caregivers can take a break.
Here are some tips on determining long-distance caregiver strengths and weaknesses:
- Are you good at finding information, keeping people up-to-date on changing conditions, and offering cheer, whether on the phone or with a computer?
- Are you good at supervising and leading others?
- Are you comfortable speaking with medical staff and interpreting what they say to others?
- Is your strongest suit doing the numbers—paying bills, keeping track of bank statements, and reviewing insurance policies and reimbursement reports?
- Are you the one in the family who can fix anything, while no one else knows the difference between pliers and a wrench?
When reflecting on your limits, consider:
- How often, both mentally and financially, can you afford to travel?
- Are you emotionally prepared to take on what may feel like a reversal of roles between you and your parent—taking care of your parent instead of your parent taking care of you? Can you continue to respect your parent’s independence?
- Can you be both calm and assertive when communicating from a distance?
- How will your decision to take on caregiving responsibilities affect your work and home life?
(National Institute on Aging)
At Metropolitan Home Health Services, we specialize in providing a wide range of home health services, including assisting long-distance caregivers with on-location, in-home health care to meet the needs of patients and those caring for them.