It is called many things, from remote caregiving to long distance caring or caring from afar, but es-sentially if it takes you an hour or more to travel from where you live to the older person you want to look after, then you can consider yourself a long-distance caregiver.
Tip 1: Look for the signs
When you live further away, you may have to look more closely for any signs that additional care and support is needed. Our elderly loved ones don’t want to burden us with any worries and they obviously want to hold on to their independence for as long as they can. But how can we really help them if we aren’t there physically everyday to see for ourselves how they are coping alone?
Initially, phone calls at specific times are an easy way to do this without causing offence. Cooking a meal, for example, can be one of the first everyday activities that become physically or emotionally too draining for an elderly relative to do. So calling at lunch time or dinner time and casually asking what they’re cooking for tea can give you an insight into how they’re looking after themselves from a nutritional point of view.
Tip 2: Provide emotional support
There can be feelings of guilt and sadness for family and caregivers who live far from an older per-son, and this is fuelled further when there are other family members who live closer and are there-fore shouldering more of the caregiving.
A good workaround for this is to yourself more as an emotional support and online support service. Long distance help can still do many of the admin tasks required in looking after someone, because so many organisations and government services are now available online, if not by telephone. You can help with researching local services, ordering medicines or food shopping or managing banking and benefits.
You can also provide respite to those living closer, even if you can’t be there in person. Simply providing a listening ear to vent any difficulties or negative feelings they’re experiencing can really help them to keep going, without of course getting defensive or feeling worse yourself. Offering them appreciation and reassurance is as important as physical assistance, although you could also provide that respite care if you can travel.
Ultimately it all relies on good communication and clear delegation of tasks between the family or team of people who want to work together to care.
Tip 3: Know your strengths and set limits
When it comes to delegating the tasks, it’s a good idea to sit down together, or organise a group chat online or by phone, with the primary aim of just thinking through who is good at what aspects of the caring.
That’s because there is often the propensity to assign a role – such as grocery shopping, for exam-ple – to a young family member or external care provider, when they don’t cook or know what the elderly person likes to eat. They simply do the job because they live closest to the supermarket. In reality, this role would be best suited to someone who knows the person well and finds a food shop easy to do. Plus, these kinds of tasks can be easily done from afar, online.
Setting personal limits is also important, as is allowing the discussions on roles to change over time.
Older members of the caregiving group may be “sandwich caregivers”, i.e. they have support roles for elderly parents and younger children of their own. They may also experience physical or mental ailments themselves, and so it’s important to bear in mind the need for personal care as well as wanting to help care for others.
As a long-distance carer you may hope to, even intend, to travel perhaps more often than you eventually end up being able to, for financial reasons or otherwise. Try to foresee what you can in your planning but also know that it’s ok to rethink the support you can give if your circumstances change over time. Often, caring for an older relative is a long journey, and your life and needs will change as much as theirs do.
Tip 4: Make the most of your visits
When you do get precious time together, it is of course important to spend that quality time just en-joying each other’s company, perhaps giving other carers and family members a rest and relishing the opportunity to really help out, in person.
However there is more to be gained from such a visit, so don’t waste the opportunity. Discreetly look around the house and watch your older loved one as they go about their day. You’re looking for signs that they are struggling with anything new that you weren’t aware of. This is particularly important as months and years pass by, because their support needs will change with time. Poten-tial hazards can appear in the home, with potential to fall or slip, that can be easily fixed with minor home improvements.
Similarly, a visit is a great time to introduce yourself to the other people in the wider caring team from the neighbours to the doctor and any external care providers. You can learn a lot from con-versations with people who interact daily with your loved one and if nothing else, this can reassure you that you aren’t missing anything important while you are far away.
Tip 5: Invest when caregiving needs grow
There will inevitably come a point when it becomes obvious that more care is needed, and hopefully you and the caregiving team will spot these signs before an accident occurs.
One of the first issues is usually mobility-related, and yet there simple home improvements that can make the living situation instantly more manageable, giving you as carers more time and more importantly, buying the elderly person more freedom and time living in their own home.
Ramps and hand rails on drive ways and front doors are easy to install, as are larger modifications such as stairlifts. Modern stairlift designs can cope with even the most unusual stairwells. They are designed for safety, tilting to help people get on and off the seat, and their generators mean even a power cut won’t stop them functioning. It can give real peace of mind to long-distance carers and a newfound mobility to the elderly person who wants to remain in their home.
If you still feel you need more advice with remote caregiving and the challenges it brings, seek out the professional advice that exists from many of the charitable organisations and government groups dedicated to issues of ageing and the elderly.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help as you seek to give help yourself!