How to Care for a Loved One from a Distance

woman preparing Thanksgiving dinner with elderly father


Thanksgiving is just around the corner and, for many families, this may be one of the few times during the year where they spend time together. For some, it may have been a year or more since they’ve last spent time with parents and other loved ones. Often, adult children notice changes in their aging parents – they may be moving more slowly, forgetting more frequently or allowing bills to pile up without paying them.

This is often a source of frustration for those whose loved ones live far away. Seeing their loved ones needing more help can create concern among adult children who want to help ensure their loved ones continue to be safe and comfortable as they age. Should they be driving? Are they able to run a household and pay bills on time? Are they taking their medications correctly? Most adult children have the desire to take care of their aging parents, but aren’t able to do so from a distance. Here are some tips to help you become an effective long-distance caregiver.

Evaluate your parents’ ability to live safely

The first step to being an effective caregiver is to be well-informed. The upcoming holidays present an outstanding opportunity to assess how well your loved ones are living. During your holiday visit, pay attention to their health condition, the condition of their home, their appearance and grooming. Are they neatly dressed? Is the refrigerator well-stocked? If you have concerns, speak with your loved one’s healthcare provider, financial advisor and other professionals if you can get permission to do so. Talk to friends and neighbors—and, most important, talk to your loved one. Ask lots of questions. Make notes to refer to later.

Discuss the possibility of a crisis before it occurs

Sit down and have a discussion with your loved one. This can be a difficult talk to have, as many are reluctant to talk about issues of health, but having an honest conversation may prove to be lifesaving down the road. Embrace a spirit of compassion and respect. Acknowledging getting older and having to adjust to new realities can be a challenge for many older adults. Show your parent that you understand their concerns and that your greatest wish for them is for their optimum well-being.

Create an action plan

Once you’ve assessed your loved one’s situation and needs, it’s time to determine what your role should be. If there is a situation that requires some attention, talk to other family members about the best steps to take. Enlist the advice of healthcare providers, eldercare attorneys or any others than can help provide assistance. Remember that unless your loved one is completely incapacitated, he or she must be centrally involved in developing the plan. You are trying to help Mom or Dad take control of their life, not control it for them. Your goal is to support your family member’s maximum level of independence, self-esteem and dignity.

Become educated

If your loved one has a diagnosis such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, or other chronic illness, learn all you can about the condition from reliable sources. This will help you understand what they’re going through and possible action items you can do to help improve the situation.

Keep in touch

Of course, face-to-face visits are the best way to monitor a loved one’s health, but this isn’t always possible. Here are some way to keep in touch from a distance:

  • Call often, and encourage your loved one to call you
  • Set your loved one up with a simple email program
  • Use a webcam or Skype for “virtual visits”
  • Help your loved one create a Facebook page, or set up a family blog
  • Remember that cards, letters and photos never go out of style

Enlist the help of a professional

When you don’t live nearby, hiring a professional makes sense and is a great way to help ensure your loved ones are being properly taken care of. A good place to start is with an Aging Life Care® manager, who can assess your loved one’s needs, develop a customized plan of care, and serve as an advocate during medical appointments. A care manager serves as a single point of contact for becoming aware about all issues of your loved one’s well-being, whether it’s a medical condition, financial challenges, or legal issues.

Long-distance caregiving can be a challenge, but becomes much easier when you enlist the support of those experienced in dealing with the issues of aging. If you’d like to learn more about the services we provide, please contact us.

Categories: Aging in Place, Caregiving