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7 Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers

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Caring for a Loved One

Taking care of a seriously ill loved one who lives in the same house or same town is challenging, time-consuming and complicated. But when you live far away from that loved one, caring for him or her brings added stress.

It is estimated there are 7 million people in the United States today who are considered to be long-distance caregivers. These are people who live at least one hour away and are an integral participant in the care of another.

If you are caring for a loved one from a long distance, here are a few tips that may help:

1. Get Everyone On Board

Once you learn a loved one needs continuous care, it’s time to gather the troops and see who is available to help in your absence. Start with immediate family members, but remember that those who live closer to the patient may feel they’re carrying the brunt of the care. It’s important to balance the caregiving duties by enlisting as much help as possible. This may mean recruiting volunteers, such as friends or neighbors, or hiring professionals.

From far away, you can take on such responsibilities as paying medical and household bills, making future appointments for the patient and coordinating transportation to appointments, as well as offering support by phone or Internet.

2. Get Organized

Meet the medical professionals involved in your loved one’s care and obtain their contact information. This is a good time for your loved one to sign a medical release giving you permission to discuss his or her condition with medical providers.

Keep this release and all important papers pertaining to your loved one’s care or condition in a special folder, to include advance directives, healthcare power of attorney, health insurance card/policy, birth certificate, Social Security card, will and a list of his or her medications. Put the folder in a safe and easily accessible place in the patient’s home. Having these items on hand will reduce the stress of searching for them when the patient needs to produce them for doctors’ appointments or hospital stays.

As medical bills are paid, place these in a separate folder. Inquiring about a mistake in billing will always require the account number and other information found only on the bill. At the end of the year, these bills are also important when filing the patient’s tax return.

Learn more: The Importance of Talking About End-of-Life Care

3. Be Prepared for Emergencies

Even the best-laid plans and most organized person can be waylaid by an emergency. When you live far away, an unexpected event can turn into panic very quickly. Advance planning is a must for long-distance caregivers.

Set up a phone tree with family members and in-town caregivers to make getting up-to-date information about your loved one’s condition easier.

Talk to your employer about how much time off you have, paid and otherwise. Pack a suitcase with everything you need in the event you have to leave in a hurry. Even if you never use the time off, knowing you are ready to go can help relieve anxiety.

4. Stay in Touch

Feeling guilty for not being able to be with a seriously ill loved one is a common emotion for long-distance caregivers. Devising a plan for staying in touch on a regular basis and carrying through with it can ease these feelings. Free services online make it simple to set up a private website, video chat or communicate regularly through social media. 

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5. Get Connected

There are several caregiving apps available today that allow long-distance caregivers and their sick loved ones to keep track of appointments and medications with pre-set reminders or alarms. Surveillance systems installed in the patient’s home can allow long-distance caregivers to see a loved one from his or her phone and monitor activities or status from far away. There are also several medical on-call systems, some offered through local hospitals, to provide assistance in the event a caregiver is not on site and something happens.

6. Take Quality Time During Visits

Since visits for long-distant caregivers can be busy and hectic, it’s important to spend as much quality time with your loved one as possible during visits. Taking a quiet moment to sit and chat allows you to get a feel for how your loved one is doing. It can be reassuring to you as well as create wonderful memories for you both.

7. Get Support for Yourself

Keeping your feelings bottled up will only add to your stress, so find someone to share your feelings with. Taking time for yourself or pampering yourself in some way can help ground you when you feel pulled from all sides. It can be as simple as taking a walk to keeping an appointment for a massage. Whatever allows you to take a break from the stress should be considered an important caregiving duty.

Gaining outside help from family and friends, being organized and prepared for whatever happens and taking care of yourself will help you feel more confident about caring for someone you love from far away.

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