According to a study conducted by the AARP, 15% of the nearly 34 million Americans who provide care to a loved one are caregiving from a distance of at least one hour or more. Caring for a loved one can be complicated as it is, but when you add distance into the mix, it can have an even greater effect on career, savings, and a caregiver’s emotional well-being. What works for one caregiver may not work for another, and with diseases like Parkinson’s, a caregiver’s role will change as the disease progresses, so the landscape is ever shifting. Keep reading for some starter tips on how to care for someone with a chronic condition from a distance.
Of course, the type of care provided depends on an individual’s health, so it pays to keep on top of any health changes. If you’re too far to visit more than a few times a year then try to call, email, or Skype as often as possible. With certain debilitating diseases, like Parkinson’s, writing an email or holding a telephone may be too difficult, so Skype is a great alternative as a way to check in. It serves two purposes: first it lets them know you’re there even if you’re physically far away, and second, it lets you see any health changes or declines as if you were actually there. If Skype is not an option, enlist the help of a nearby friend or neighbor and ask them if they notice any changes.
In the event there is a health change, the next step is contacting the physician for a formal diagnosis. Your role as caregiver will change as health declines after a diagnosis, such as Parkinsons. At some point your loved one may need professional assistance with most of their activities of daily living. In the event of a physical change, many times a person is still able to live at home, but their doctor might recommend more caregiving hours or further home-health services to assist with helping the patient get stronger. Home health can even include physical therapy. Likewise, there are also agencies that provide everything from companionship to help with groceries or light housecleaning.
If you do decide to hire professional care, keep your loved one’s health records on-hand and well organized. This should include doctors’ names/phone numbers, medications, and doctor’s visits (both past and future). Also, have advanced health directives ready in case of an emergency. If possible, try to schedule doctor’s appointments when you are in town in order to let the doctor know what you are seeing or hearing from caregivers. This can help the diagnostic process enormously since you will be advocating directly for your loved one’s health.
If there is a primary caregiver that lives with your family member, like a healthy spouse or an adult child, one of the most important things you can do is provide respite to them. Caregivers face burning out and sometimes have health problems of their own, so any respite you can provide will allow them to emotionally recharge. When you do get to visit your loved one and their primary caregiver, catch up on medical related issues, but also remember to talk about shared interests that aren’t related to disease or chronic conditions.
Written by Max Gottlieb for Senior Planning. Senior Planning is a one-stop shop for senior resources, health resources, and care resources.