Many of us are caregivers, whether caring for children, parents, grandparents, a sibling, spouse or a friend. Caregiving in of itself poses many unique challenges, but what if your loved one lives far away? There are many things to consider as a caregiver.
Assessing Care Needs
If the person you are caring for wishes to stay at home it is important for you evaluate their overall needs. These may include:
Personal needs, such as bathing, eating, dressing, or toileting
Household needs, such as cooking, cleaning, or shopping
Healthcare needs, such as medication management and physician appointments
Social and emotional needs that include companionship, conversation, and activities that are meaningful to your loved one
When you are visiting your loved one, be sure to evaluate their home to make sure it is safe for them, especially if they are frail. Review and use the Home Safety Check List for Caregivers as guidance.
Finding a Local Caregiver
When looking for in-home care for your loved one, it’s important to find someone who you and your loved one can trust. Look for someone who is compatible. For example, if your loved one prefers to communicate in his or her native language the caregiver should speak it as well. Consider the person’s bedside manner, their level of compassion and how they interact with your loved one.
Consider asking local friends and family, place of worship, or senior center for a recommendation. There are websites that can help you find caregiving services where your loved one lives.
Tracking and Managing Your Loved One’s Healthcare Remotely
It is important to help keep track of your loved one’s health. Keeping a notebook of doctor visits, medications lists, and other important information is helpful. A local caregiver can help you track when medications are taken, as well as any vital signs, such as blood pressure or temperature. Also, get copies of your loved one’s medical records routinely, as allowed—be sure to understand that there are privacy rules (e.g., HIPAA) and you would need to have legal rights and obtain consent from your loved one as appropriate. Learn about patient rights regarding their personal health information. This way, you help create a process where your loved one’s medical records are attained and shared with his or her doctors so they are fully informed on medical history.
There are different ways to receive and store medical records to help you and your loved one share information. For instance, there are apps for your smart phone or online personal health information tools. If you use any of these tools be sure to know about certain key aspects regarding privacy and security measures as well as the capability to share the information.
Getting Help for the Day-To-Day
Your loved one may need help around their home, such as laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning. There are local services available that you could take advantage of. Many supermarkets offer online shopping with free delivery for groceries. There are laundry services that pick up and drop off. Cleaning services are available as well.
If you have local friends and family you may wish to have them take turns with some of these chores so as not to overburden any one person. Consider creating a schedule based on volunteers’ preferences.
Staying in Touch with Your Loved One
An important aspect of caregiving when you live far away is communicating with your loved one. In the age of social media and technology, this can be done beyond a phone call. Video chat is great so that you can see and talk to the person you care for.
Most importantly, don’t forget to have regular conversations with your loved one so that you understand what he or she wants and needs most. Communication lets your loved one share his or her personal feelings and desires. It also allows you to express yourself and can help your loved one understand your desire to help as well as your own needs and limits.
Important Legal Documents
There are several legal documents with regard to your loved one’s healthcare that are important for any caregiver to consider. These written documents, called Advanced Medical Directives, contain your loved one’s wishes on future medical care. These may include:
Medical Power of Attorney—this allows a person to identify someone they trust to make medical decisions on his or her behalf when he or she cannot. This can be combined or separate from a financial power of attorney
Living Will—a document that outlines what a person is willing or not willing to have done to keep him or her alive, as well as considerations for pain management and organ donation
Be sure to discuss these documents with your loved one while he or she is capable of making these decisions.
Remote caregiving is not ideal. However, by addressing key aspects of your loved one’s care through people you trust locally you can have peace of mind that he or she is in good hands. And, don’t forget to care for yourself. Being a caregiver can take its toll, even if you do not live near your loved one.
Vera Rulon, MS, RHIT, was the Director of Strategic Communications within Pfizer Medical.