If you are living an hour or more away from a person who needs your help, you’re a long-distance caregiver. If you’re new to long-distance caregiving, it’s hard to know where to begin. Here are a few tips:
- Ask the care recipient how you can be most helpful.
- Talk to friends who are caregivers to see if they have suggestions about ways to help.
- Find out more about local resources that might be useful.
- Develop a good understanding of the person’s health issues and other needs.
- Visit as often as you can; not only might you notice something that needs to be done and can be taken care of from a distance, but you can also relieve a primary caregiver for a short time.
- Many of us don’t automatically have caregiver skills. Hospitals and local Medicare agencies often offer classes; a simple online search will help you locate those opportunities.
- Learn as much as you can about your family member’s condition and any treatment. This can help you anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises and assist in health care management. It can also make talking with the doctor easier.
- Get written permission, as needed under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, to receive medical and financial information. To the extent possible, the family member with permission should be the one to talk with all health care providers.
- Try putting together a notebook, on paper or online, that includes all the vital information about medical care, social services, contact numbers, financial issues and so on. Make copies for other caregivers, and keep it up-to-date.
What can you do from far away?
- Help with finances, money management or bill paying.
- Arrange for in-home care — hire professional caregivers or home health or nursing aides and help get durable medical equipment.
- Provide emotional support for the primary caregiver.
- Serve as an information coordinator — research health problems or medicines, help navigate through a maze of needs and clarify insurance benefits and claims.
- Keep family and friends updated and informed.
- Create a plan and get paperwork in order in case of an emergency.
How can you make the most of your visits?
- Talk to the care recipient ahead of time and find out what he or she would like help with during your visit.
- Check with the primary caregiver to learn what caregiving responsibilities you can handle while you are in town.
- Remember to actually spend time visiting with your family member. Try to make time to do things unrelated to being a caregiver, like watching a movie, playing a game or taking a drive.
- Try to let outside distractions wait until you are home again.