Long-Distance Caregiving Tips

Know What You Need to Know
Experienced caregivers recommend that you learn as much as you can about your family member or friend's illness, medicines and resources that might be available. 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. Make sure at least one family member has written permission to receive financial and medical information. To the extent possible, one family member should handle conversations with all health care providers. Try putting all the vital information in one place—perhaps in a notebook or in a shared, secure online document. This includes all the important information about medical care, social services, contact numbers, financial issues, and so on. Make copies for other caregivers, and keep the information up-to-date.

Plan Your Visits
When visiting family, you may feel that there is just too much to do in the time that you have. You can get more done and feel less stressed by talking to your family member or friend ahead of time and finding out what they would like to do. Also, check with the primary caregiver, if appropriate, to learn what they need, such as handling some caregiving responsibilities while you are in town. This may help you set clear-cut and realistic goals for the visit. For instance, does your mother need to get some new winter clothes or visit another family member? Could your father use help fixing things around the house? Would you like to talk to your mother's physician? Decide on the priorities and leave other tasks for another visit.

Remember to Actually Spend Time Visiting Family
Try to make time to do things unrelated to caregiver duties. Maybe you could find a movie to watch with your relative, or plan a visit with old friends or other family members. Perhaps they would like to attend worship services. Offer to play a game of cards or a board game. Take a drive, or go to the library together. Finding a little bit of time to do something simple and relaxing can help everyone, and it builds more family memories. And keep in mind that your friend or relative is the focus of your trip—try to let outside distractions wait until you are home again.

Get in Touch, and Stay in Touch
Many families schedule conference calls with doctors, the assisted living facility team or nursing home staff so several relatives can participate in one conversation and get up-to-date information about your loved one’s health and progress. If they are in a nursing home, you can request occasional teleconferences with the facility's staff. Sometimes their social worker is a good resource for updates and guidance with decision making. You might also talk with a family member or friend who can provide a realistic view of what is going on. Don't underestimate the value of a phone and email contact list. Good family communication keeps everyone updated on your loved one’s needs.

Help Your Loved One Stay in Contact
For one family, having a private phone line installed in their father's nursing home room allowed him to stay in touch. For another family, giving Grandma a cell phone (and then teaching her how to use it) gave everyone some peace of mind. These simple strategies can be a lifeline. But be prepared—you may find you are inundated with calls or text messages. It's good to think in advance about a workable approach for coping with numerous calls.

SOURCE: National Institute on Aging

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