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Practical Advice for When You Can't Be There

5 helpful tips for those of you in long-distance caregiving situations.

Jean writes:

Your column has been very useful in helping us talk to my mother-in-law when we visit, but she lives half a continent away and is in her 70s. How can we tell if she needs help between visits?

This question comes up often and is one of the reasons the offices in our national network of home care agencies sometimes need to work together to serve the whole family. The truth of the matter is that holiday or semiannual visits, combined with phone calls and photo sharing, can’t always provide a complete picture of how well a senior is caring for himself or herself.

Long-distance caregiving tips.

There’s no silver-bullet solution to the challenges of long-distance caregiving, but there are some strategies we can recommend for getting a clearer idea of how well your loved one is coping on a daily basis.

1) Call at different times.


It’s human nature to want to put our best foot forward, especially when we suspect we may be evaluated and we have time to prepare.

Calling at the same time every week or every few days can lead to having pretty much the same conversation over and over. The same pleasantries are exchanged, the same details updated and boxes checked.

You can break that pattern.

  • Mix up your touch-base routine now and then. Call during mealtimes, when your family member should be eating. Try right after church services or other regularly scheduled appointments and ask about specifics of the experience.
  • Talk about details rather than generalities. This can put us at ease that everything is as it appears, or offer clues if there’s a need to dig deeper.

2) Get an independent perspective.

Ask a friend or neighbor whom you trust to drop by to share some baked goods or to offer a lunch date. You might also ask them to drive by from time to time just to make sure the home is secure and the property looks maintained.

It might feel like you're asking a lot, but most friends will sympathize with your long-distance caregiving situation. You might be surprised how many people will be more than happy to help.

3) Surprise them.

two elderly woman

Speaking of surprises, why not pay a surprise visit to your loved one every now and again? That doesn’t mean you need to make frequent impromptu treks across a continent, since you don't need to be the one to “drop by.” You might have friends or family in common in the community where your older loved one lives, but if not, maybe you might know someone who will be visiting the area soon? 

Ask a friend to arrange to drop off some cookies or other dish you know your loved one will enjoy. During that visit, however brief, your emissary will be able get a read on your loved one's overall well-being.

4) Try technology.

If your family is comfortable with technology, inexpensive webcams can offer visual reassurance during a few or even all of your telephone check-ins. Skype is probably the most popular option, while Google Hangouts can allow multiple family members to join in a conversation with your elderly loved one.

For those less accustomed to the Internet, there still are, believe it or not, videophones or “picture” phones available online that work with traditional analog phone lines. Some of these analog models are even available at deep discounts as the market moves rapidly toward a webcam standard.

This Beamer Phone Video Station is one example of a video phone that can help in your long-distance caregiving situation.

5) Talk to a professional.

caregiver and elder man

If you suspect some part of the daily routine may be an issue, suggest that an expert—a professional you trust—come by to offer suggestions.

Caring Hearts can give you peace of mind in long-distance-caregiving situations. We offer free in-home evaluations to help you and your loved one identify specific needs that should be addressed. If you think this might be appropriate for your family, please contact your local office, or call (866) 721-3499 for more information.



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