7 Tips for Being the Best Long-Distance Caregiver

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

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If you are currently a long-distance caregiver, or about to become one, you know the anxiety that comes from being apart from your loved one. Being a caregiver is a lot about prioritizing what needs to get done and how you can best help your loved one to live their life. Switching from being there every day to even something like once a week means giving up a lot of control.

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At that point, it can feel like losing grasp on the situation or being in the know and things may happen. Sometimes things start with a simple phone call asking for help. Other times, a more urgent need arises such as a medical emergency.

Feeling helpless in the face of a crisis is normal, but no matter what, you do not have to feel unprepared. Even if circumstances force you to maintain a distance from your loved one, you can still be there to provide support and care from farther away. If this sounds like your situation or something that may arise for you, here are some tips to bolster your confidence as a long-distance caregiver.

1. Awareness

The first step to being a long-distance caregiver is being aware of what is actually going on with your loved one. This might seem challenging in the face of the physical distance between you, but with some careful planning and updates, it is possible.

Phone calls. Consider increasing the number of times you call your loved one. Ask how things are going, and keep the conversation casual and comforting. Resist the urge to go into detective mode, as it may make your loved one feel insecure.

Check-in with others. With permission from your family member, you may want to check in with any other care providers that may be coming into the home. If there aren’t any other caregivers, cast the net wider. Does your loved one have a housekeeper, any church members, or other friends that have close consistent contact?

Visits. Not much can take the place of an actual visit if you can manage it. Seeing things in person can be quite revealing. You may want to take a close look at the condition of the home, and the contents of the fridge. Take notice of your family member’s hygiene and mobility. 

Red flags. It is human nature to want everything to be okay. The stress of feeling like things may not be going well can be hard to manage and easy to overlook. Take a deep breath and try to be objective. Trust your intuition if you feel like things are not quite right. 

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2. Pre-Planning

By pre-planning, we mean having the necessary legal documents in place giving you the authority to help manage your loved one’s care. There may be no more important task to complete. The good news is that this can be accomplished at a distance.

Advance directives. Advance directives differ from state to state.  Consider having a conversation with your loved one about the importance of knowing end-of-life wishes. Discuss the need for designating a health care proxy. These can be emotional discussions so approach them with a large dose of compassion.

Financial authority. What happens if you need to step in and manage bill paying or investigate possible financial exploitation? We understand that finances can be a tricky topic of discussion. Try proceeding with care, caution and an attitude of respect. Have some ideas in mind about how this can be handled. You can read more about financial power of attorney if you're looking for solutions if you're loved one is unable to make decisions for themselves.

3. Communication With Family

You are probably not the only family member that has an interest in the care of your loved one. Being the best long-distance caregiver means including others, and it shows that you value and appreciate others’ contributions and opinions.

With the change to long-distance caregiving, you may want to plan ahead a little more in order to best accomplish this.

Some families use group emails to keep everyone apprised of decisions. Others may use technology to keep everyone connected. Some digital apps include Skype, Facetime, or Zoom to provide that much needed face-to-face visual contact.

Also, you might need help with an important problem, so it’s good to maintain contact with others in regards to your loved one. Think about asking family members for their opinions. 

4. Consider a Professional Coordinator

As much as you want to be able to handle things on your own, there may come a time when you need outside help from a third party. This is not an admission of failure, but a recognition that you can’t do it all. And with a professional providing support, this can be a compassionate and reasonable decision for everyone. 

Some families choose an aging life care professional, also known as a geriatric care manager. These are boots-on-the-ground professionals that can manage and monitor the situation with your family member. As always, consider including your other family members to discuss this possibility. 

Other families look to professional caregivers to provide as much or as little care as needed. These are delicate conversations to have with a loved one. You may want to approach the subject with care and compassion. 

5.  Think About Long-term Solutions Before They Are Needed

It is human nature to avoid thinking about a problem or crisis before it occurs. When dealing with caregiving, taking an objective and clear look at possible long-term care needs can help prepare you when the time comes.

Take some time to research assisted living communities and rehabilitation centers in the area. Find out which home health companies are covered by your loved one’s insurance or can be supplemented through Medicaid. Consider keeping a log of who you talk to and a priority list of companies. 

Long-distance caregiving can make you feel as though you have little control, but developing your arsenal of resources will help you feel calm and ready.

6. Provide Emotional Support

Sometimes your “to-do” list may interfere with the emotional support needed by a family member. Consider flipping the list around and try thinking of emotional support as the foundation upon which everything else occurs. This applies to other family members as well.

How this is accomplished depends upon your unique family dynamics. A good place to start is by approaching all communication with respect and empathy.  Consider what your role as a caregiver might mean for a loved one.

7. Self-care

Even at a distance, you are still a caregiver. All the stress and strain associated with caregiving applies to you too. With all caregiving, if you are not at your best, you may not be able to provide your best for your loved one. It can be helpful to acknowledge and accept this fact so you can focus on self-care. Here are some suggestions:

  • Ask for help. Remember that you don’t have to do this alone. When appropriate, ask siblings or other family members for their support.
  • Take care of your own health. Focus on rest, nutrition, and exercise. This will give you the energy and clarity of thinking that you need to take care of someone else.
  • Consider relaxation techniques. Some people like to meditate or pray, while others use yoga, exercise, or soothing music.
  • Take a break. The mental strain of caregiving can seem unrelenting. We suggest taking small breaks as needed. Consider online games like crosswords, reading or watching a funny movie. 

Caregiving is Important No Matter How Far You Are

As situations change, so will your ability to provide care for a loved one. If you are making the move to become a long-distance caregiver, doing some planning ahead of time can make the transition less stressful.

The tips mentioned above can provide some food for thought and confidence to become a great caregiver, no matter where you are. Caregiving starts with yourself as well, so consider working on your end-of-life wishes so you can focus on living life.

If you're looking for more on caregiving, read our guides on how to become a certified caregiver and self-care for caregivers.

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