At our campuses, we receive many questions about long-distance caregiving such as, “My sister takes care of my mother with dementia, but I live three states away, so how can I support her and help my mother when I don’t live locally?” Often, when you don't live where the care is needed, it may be difficult to feel that what you are doing is enough and that what you are doing is important. Rest assured that it often is.
Providing support to the person taking on the primary caregiving role is an important task. Often primary caregivers are so engulfed in the day-to-day challenges that they cannot imagine how others can help. At times, they may not feel comfortable asking for assistance, so broaching the subject first can be helpful. Ask the local caregiver to develop a list of items with which he/she could use help. You may be surprised at how many things you can do to help, such as:
- Arrange for a local landscaping service to periodically take care of mowing the lawn and managing the gardens if these tasks become too much for the local caregiver.
- Contract with a local dog walking or mobile grooming service if pet care seems to be difficult to maintain. This may seem small, but it’s the little things that make all the difference.
- Arrange for occasional take-out meals or home-delivered meals to give the local caregiver a break from meal preparation.
- In today’s technological world, many long-distance caregivers find they can be most useful online. Researching health problems, medicines and physicians is one way to help with decision-making.
- Utilizing social media, such as Facebook, to organize visitors and keep family and friends updated on your loved one’s progress can also be helpful. Many families organize pages on social networking sites for all family members to access where each visitor may post a comment about their recent visit. Providing one place for family members to go to receive the most updated information will help reduce the amount of time a caregiver has to spend answering the same questions repeatedly.
- Many long-distance caregivers assist with finances or money management so the local caregiver does not have to utilize energy on those tasks. Paying bills online can be an easy way to keep up with expenses.
- Keeping paperwork organized can go a long way towards helping the primary caregiver. Maintaining current information about your relative’s health and medical care, as well as finances, home ownership, and other legal issues, helps to get a handle on what is going on and allows family to respond more quickly if there is a crisis.
- Staying connected with the care recipient is important. Routine phone calls or utilizing webcams and video chat can help you stay connected and feeling close.
- Visit as often as you can to help with caregiving tasks and even provide a respite for the local caregiver.
- The most important way to offer support is by focusing on the local caregiver. Ask how your relative is coping with the day-to-day challenges, make sure he/she is making time for themselves, etc. Providing emotional support is vital and will be appreciated.