Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers

Know what you need to know. Experienced caregivers recommend that you learn as
much as you can about your parent’s illness and treatment. Information can help you
understand what is going on, anticipate the course of an illness, prevent crises, and assist
in disease management. It can also make talking with the doctor easier. Learn as much as
you can about the resources available. Make sure at least one family member has written
permission to receive medical and financial information. Try putting together a notebook,
or something similar, that includes all the vital information about health care, social
services, contact numbers, financial issues, etc. Make copies for other caregivers.
Plan your visits. When visiting your parent, 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 parent ahead of time and finding out what he or she would like to do. This may help
you set clear-cut and realistic goals for the visit. For instance, does your mother need to
go to the mall or to 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 to another visit.
Remember to actually spend time visiting with your family member. Try to make
time to do things unrelated to being a caregiver. Maybe you could rent a movie to watch
with your parents, or visit with old friends or other family members. Perhaps your aunt or
uncle 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.
Get in touch and stay in touch. Many families schedule conference calls with doctors,
the assisted living facility team, or nursing home staff to get up-to-date information about
a parent’s health and progress. If your parent is in a nursing home, you can request
occasional teleconferences with the facility’s staff. Some families schedule conference
calls so several relatives can participate in one conversation. Sometimes a social worker
is good to talk to for updates as well as for help in making decisions. The human touch is
important too. Try to find people in your parent’s community who can be your eyes and
ears and provide a realistic view of what is going on. In some cases, this will be your
other parent.
Help you parent 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
the grandmother a cell phone (and then teaching her to use it) gave everyone some peace
of mind. You can program telephone numbers (such as doctors’, neighbors’, and you
own) into your parent’s phone so that he or she can speed-dial contacts. Such simple
strategies can be a lifeline for you and your parent. But be prepared – you may find your
are inundated with calls from you parent. It’s good to think in advance about a workable
approach for coping with numerous calls.
Get a phone book. Get a local phonebook, either hard copy or online, that lists resources
in your parent’s neighborhood. Having a copy of the phone book for your parent’s city or
town can be really helpful. The “Blue Pages” can provide an easy guide to state and local
services available in your parent’s hometown.

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