8 Ways to be an Effective Long-Distance Caregiver

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Taking care of an injured or sick loved one is never easy, but when you’re far away, it can complicate matters and create feelings of anxiety and guilt.

Here are eight ways you can help an aging, injured or disabled friend or relative, even if they are living many miles away:

1. Arm Yourself with Knowledge

Once you have a medical diagnosis or know the extent of a loved one’s injury, take time to do some research. Gather information using the Internet or by consulting with medical experts and rehab facilities in your relative’s area. Find out what the usual treatment and recovery process is, as well as side effects of prescribed medications, so you can anticipate your loved one’s needs.

2.Communicate in a Variety of Ways

One of the best ways to let your friend or relative know you care is by connecting with them regularly. Set up phone calls or video chats at a time of day when they will most be in the mood to talk. (While evenings may be convenient for working adults, many elderly parents with dementia may not be at their best late in the day.)

Choosing a consistent day and time to talk can give them something to look forward to. You can also send email messages or communicate on social media. Older individuals may prefer more traditional forms of communication such as mailing them letters, greeting cards or small gifts to show you care.

3. Coordinate Medical Appointments and Finances

If a relative would like help with finances or medical needs, ask them for written permission, so you can access their financial records and talk freely with their healthcare providers. Many online services are available to track your relative’s finances or help them pay household bills. You can also order groceries for home delivery, schedule transportation and followup appointments, or participate virtually in telemedicine appointments with their doctors. Downloading a caregiver app will make it easier to keep track of appointments and medications.

4. Learn About Insurance Coverage

Understand what might be covered by your loved one’s insurance or what may have to be paid for out of pocket. Although some items may be covered by insurance, they are often basic items with limited features or may take a lengthy time to be approved. If this is the case, or if your relative has a special request, such as needing a light transportable wheelchair, it might be worthwhile to purchase the right product for them out of pocket, so they can have it available immediately.

5. Consult with Mobility Equipment Experts

When purchasing medical equipment, find a reputable company that you can trust in your loved one’s area that services and physically assembles the products on-site. They can also educate the user and caregiver during in-person visits.

Find out the scope of the company’s services and offerings. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a medical “supply” store and a medical “equipment” store. Supplies are usually disposable items such as diapers, bandages, etc. While many companies may sell both supplies and equipment, they usually only specialize in one of these areas. Mobility Plus focuses primarily on the equipment side.

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6. Ask for a Home Assessment

An injury or serious illness can make it more difficult for individuals to get around. They may need modifications to their environment in order stay in their home, or they may require specialized mobility equipment to perform daily activities of living. If your loved one is at risk of falling, ask a Mobility Plus consultant to do a fall assessment of the home environment and recommend equipment to reduce their risk of falling.

7. Make Your Health a Priority

The stress and frustration of long-distance caregiving can take a toll on your health. Caregivers who provide substantial care — including care coordination and medication management — are at greater risk of emotional and physical health problems, according to a 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study.*

You won’t be as helpful to those who need you, if you are overwhelmed with worries and experiencing your own health issues. Here are a few tips for improving your overall health:

  • Confide in a trusted friend or family member about the challenges you’re facing.
  • Take time to exercise regularly, eat healthy, well-balanced meals and get plenty of sleep.
  • Devote time to a favorite activity or hobby.
  • Consider joining a support group for caregivers — either online or in-person.

You will be a stronger support and comfort to loved ones if you make your own health a priority.

8. Create a Team of Supporters

Exchange contact information with neighbors, nearby family members and healthcare providers, so you can easily be notified in an emergency. If there is a local caregiver, make sure to communicate often about your loved one’s needs and their progress. If you have other close family members involved in caring for your relative, make sure all of you have a copy of the person’s will, advanced directives and life insurance policy.

Whether you’re an hour away or living on the other side of the country, your help in coordinating their care and communicating with them regularly will make them feel loved and well cared for

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For resources on senior housing, insurance, transportation and eldercare rights, visit www.USAging.org, formerly the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

*https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/infographics/make-yourself-priority-too-tips-caregivers

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