If you live an hour or more away from a loved one who needs care, you might wonder what you can do to help. And if your loved one is cared for by a close relative, such as your brother or sister, you might even feel guilty that you can’t be there to share the load.
Even though you’re not available to give hands-on assistance on a regular basis, there are a lot of ways long-distance caregivers can help from afar.
What Is Long-distance Caregiving?
If you live an hour or more away from a person who needs care, you are a long-distance caregiver. Long-distance caregiving can take many forms. You might:
- Help with finances, money management, or bill paying
- Arrange for in-home care
- Research assisted living facilities
- Provide emotional support and/or respite care for a primary caregiver
- Keep family and friends updated and informed
- Create a plan and get paperwork in order in case of an emergency
Anne Ziff, the author of Your End of Life Matters: How to Talk with Family and Friends, says there are a lot of ways long-distance caregivers can help from afar.
“One of the things I think works is that a distance child who can’t offer support on a regular basis can come in one weekend a month a do a lot of things,” Ziff says. “They can prepare foods that get frozen and easily be defrosted for dinners over the course of a month. They can take the parent or parents out to dinner or out to coffee or down to the park.
People can come in from out of town and be chatting and compassionate and go to the bank and figure out where the safety deposit boxes are and call the doctor. You can do that in a weekend. That weekend once a month can totally relive the local child.”
5 Tips for Helping a Caregiver from Afar
If you want to keep on top of your loved one’s care from a long distance, be an effective long-distance caregiver, and help share the load with the primary caregiver, here are some practical help and emotional support tips.
1. Gather information
If your parent has a chronic illness, gather information to help the primary caregiver — and the rest of your family — understand the disease and get an idea of what to expect for the future. Information can help you understand what is going on, anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises, and assist in health care management. It can also make talking with the doctor easier. Put all the vital information in one place, such as in a shared, secure online document, so other caregivers can access it.
2. Research available resources
While the primary caregiver is spending time grocery shopping, helping with housework, and attending doctor appointments, you can help research available resources in your parent’s community, which might include Meals on Wheels, accessible transportation, recreational programs and home health care services, and assisted living communities. While you’re at it, gather information about services that help caregivers, such as support groups and assisted living facilities that offer short-term respite stays — and encourage the caregiver to take advantage of them.
3. Ask what kind of help the caregiver could use most
Maybe the primary caregiver could use help coordinating services, such as arranging for household help or in-home care. But they might actually really need financial help and are afraid to ask. Or it might be that they don’t even want you to take over any caregiving tasks because what they really need is emotional support. So ask what kind of help they really could use most.
4. Arrange a regular time to call
You can start the conversation by asking how your loved one is doing, but don’t forget to ask how the primary caregiver is doing, too. Express appreciation for all that the caregiver does for your parent. You might not know how good it feels to hear that recognition and appreciation for what they're doing. You can also encourage them to call you with any concerns.
5. Support the caregiver if or when they decide it’s time for assisted living
The decision to move a loved one to an assisted living community can be a very personal and difficult one, and often is followed by feelings of guilt. Don’t make it harder. Instead, trust that everyone is doing the best that they can, and do whatever you can to help ease the transition. Consider planning a visit to assist the caregiver with touring facilities and narrowing choices or, later down the line, to help your parent settle into the new residence.
Solutions to Common Caregiving Challenges
Caregiving for someone you love can be emotionally charged and sometimes frustrating, and there is no quick fix to the caregiving challenges that arise. But there are some general resources, conversation starters, and conflict diffusers that can help.
Download our Solutions to Common Caregiving Challenges eBook to learn about how to talk with family and friends about caregiving challenges, how to deal with a parent who is resistant to help, and how to keep your job while caregiving.