At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important than family. But let’s face it. Life is tough. Between the responsibilities of work and home, it can feel like there’s simply not enough of you to go around.
But when you’re tasked with caring for a loved one who lives far away, the weight of the responsibility you carry can feel like the weight of the world. Because added to the duty to keep them safe and well, you may worry about the things you could be missing, the things that can’t be noticed on a Zoom call and periodic visits. After all, it’s easier to detect subtle changes when you’re with your loved one face-to-face. And then there’s the guilt of not being there.
But caring for a loved one at a distance can be made easier with a bit of planning and a lot of support.
Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Some More
Caregiving at a distance requires exceptional communication, not only between you and the one you’re caring for but also between you and the people in your loved one’s immediate environment. Take the time to reach out to your family member’s friends, neighbors, and the healthcare team.
Your relative’s circle of support can give you the peace of mind of knowing who’s there on the ground with your relative. And they can alert you to potentially significant changes in your loved one’s behavior or functioning.
It’s also important that you and your relative’s support circle know how to spot signs of elder abuse. For instance, if your loved one begins having anxiety or experiencing significant personality changes, this could indicate that they are enduring emotional, sexual, or physical abuse or intimidation but are too frightened or embarrassed to discuss it.
Monitor Your Loved One’s Care
One of the most important aspects of ensuring your loved one’s health and longevity is ensuring they’re receiving the medical care they need. Speak with your loved one about their care needs and what role they want you to play. If your family member isn’t able or willing to discuss these matters with you, but you still have concerns about their health, you may reach out to your loved one’s healthcare provider. At the very least, they should be offer advice, support, and resources to help the family make important caregiving decisions, without violating your loved one’s medical privacy.
Ask your relative to authorize you to speak with their healthcare team, if they are comfortable in doing so. This will enable you to keep track of their medical appointments, ensuring they receive the preventative and routine care they need. Regular dental care, for instance, is not only essential for oral health, but also for heart health and infection prevention in general.
In the age of COVID-19, the safest plan will likely be to rely on telemedicine whenever and wherever possible. The good news is that your loved one can receive most of their care, even routine vision care, through telehealth.
You’ll have the reassurance that your relative is enjoying continuity of care without risking exposure to the virus. If your loved one and their telehealth team allows, you may even be able to participate in the remote consultation, helping you stay up to speed on your relative’s health and their needs.
Calling in Backup
Depending on your loved one’s particular situation, you may decide together that a bit of additional in-home care is needed. It may be that your relative’s needs are only temporary, such as when they’re recovering from an illness or injury. Or your loved one may need longer-term and more specialized professional medical care.
The important thing is to do your research. Get references on anyone you are considering bringing into the home. Talk to patients and the families of those they cared for.
Above all, ensure that your relative is involved in the process to the greatest extent possible. Remember, however, that your loved one may have difficulty accepting care or trusting an in-home caregiver.
The emotional challenges of aging and coping with declining health may make your relative resistant to care. Cognitive changes and even the effects of certain medications can lead to paranoia in some seniors.
Likewise, if your loved one is a member of an especially vulnerable or marginalized group, such as the LGBTQ community, a history of trauma can make it particularly difficult for them to trust someone new. This makes it all the more important to understand and be sensitive to your loved one’s feelings and needs.
Learn what resources are available, including mental health support, and always have an emergency plan in place to ensure your relative is safe, healthy, protected, and happy. This may even require some tough decisions, especially if in-home care proves not to be enough. Your family may decide it’s time to make new living arrangements, whether that means finding a senior living community that suits your loved one’s needs or even moving them into the home of a family member.
The role of a caregiver has never been an easy one, but it’s especially tough when you’re caregiving at a distance. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help keep your loved one safe and happy and to keep yourself sane. The most important thing is to stay connected, both with your relative and their on-the-ground support team of healthcare providers, friends, and neighbors. It’s also important to enlist backup, such as in-home care, when your family member needs it. Above all, it’s imperative to be sensitive to your loved one’s needs and their feelings, to support their autonomy whenever possible, and to know when it’s time to make a change.