Caring from Afar

Helpful Advice for Long-Distance Family Caregivers

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Caring for a loved one or family member who is sick or elderly can pose all kinds of complicated challenges, both emotional and practical. When you don’t live especially close to the person, the tasks of caregiving can become that much more difficult. In addition to juggling your job, home, family, social life and caregiving duties, you’re challenged by the miles between you and your loved one and the knowledge that you can’t be there immediately if they need you.

“Many caregivers of aging or ill loved ones are caregivers from a distance, further complicating their already complex role,” says Shawn Bennis, R.N., who coordinates the Henry Ford C.A.R.E. Program, Caregiver Assistance Resources and Education®.  “Distance caregivers tend to report higher stress, less support, and more anxiety and feelings of burden than caregivers who live close by.”

If you’re at least 100 miles or an hour away from the person you care for, you are a considered a distance caregiver. A study by the National Alliance for Caregiving revealed that distance caregivers spend about one full day per week involved in caregiver duties, such as scheduling appointments, arranging transportation, paying bills, making phone calls and managing needed services.

Bennis offers these tips for distance caregivers:

Find a local helper. Ask family or friends who live near your loved one to be there in person when you can’t. “Maybe you need someone to stop by once a week to check in on the person or be ‘on call’ in case of emergency. Ask for help and be specific. If appropriate, offer to pay the person for their time,” suggests Bennis.

Use technology.

  • Find out if your loved one’s doctor offers videoconferencing, or if you can be put on speaker phone or use Skype for Business during appointments. (Note: Skype for Business is secure and meets HIPAA requirements.)
  • Follow up with doctors personally through email and phone calls.
  • Shared calendars and apps are helpful for caregivers to keep everyone up to date and involved in the care plan.

Support yourself. “Distance caregiver stress can become overwhelming. Support groups are a great way to relieve it and get some emotional and practical support,” says Bennis. Join a support group and/or find an online community of caregivers.

Related Topic: Caregivers: Be Mindful of Your Own Self-Care

Make quality connections. In the midst of appointments, medication changes and making financial preparations, you can lose sight of your relationship with care receiver. “Take a moment to step away from the caregiver role,” says Bennis. “Ask Mom how to make that special dessert, laugh about a funny memory, or tell Grandpa about the best part of your day.”

“Technology is a distance caregiver’s best friend,” concludes Bennis. “Embrace tools that bring you closer virtually. However, it’s just as important to find support near you to decrease your stress and anxiety.”

The Henry Ford C.A.R.E. Program offers expert advice for caregivers near and far. Advice and information are free, and neither you nor the person you care for needs to be a Henry Ford patient. Visit henryford.com/familycaregivers, call (313) 874-4838, or email CaregiverSupport@hfhs.org for information. 

You can also attend one of Henry Ford’s Caregiver Support Groups, henryford.com/caregiversupport, or join the Henry Ford Health System Family Caregivers Facebook group, an interactive online community of caregivers.