Long-distance caregiving: supporting loved ones from afar
If you are involved in caring for a family member who lives a long way from you, it can feel difficult and draining at times. Whether your relative lives a few hours away, or in another country, it’s emotionally taxing to care for family from a distance, especially when juggling it with other commitments.
But there are things you can do to ease the load, and ensure that your loved one feels supported.
1. Put a care plan in place
Sometimes, it may be possible for you or other family members to relocate closer to your older relative, or for them to move closer to you. But if not, it’s important to recognise that professional care might be needed. Start by assessing your loved one’s needs, and think carefully about what you can realistically provide, then put a plan in place to cover the gaps.
2. Be prepared for emergencies
Even with a solid care plan, emergencies happen. So, think about what would happen if your loved one’s health took a sudden dip, or they had an accident. Speak to friends and other family members about support they can offer you in such circumstances, such as looking after children or pets.
3. Stay in regular contact
Make sure your family member has the means to contact you, whether this is independently or with the help of their carer. Set them up with an internet connection and suitable device, and help them learn to use it. Be patient and encouraging as they adjust to new ways of communicating, and once they are confident, schedule regular calls to stay up to date.
4. Show you are thinking of them
It can be difficult for older people to adjust to changing levels of independence, and family members being far away can add to feelings of isolation. So, come up with ways to help them feel connected, despite the distance. This could be a daily morning text checking in, or sending them photos to keep them involved in your life.
5. Use your imagination to interact virtually
Think creatively about fun ways you can interact from a distance. There are apps that allow you to watch movies with someone remotely, or games you can play together online. Or why not choose a book you both want to read, then schedule a call to discuss it?
6. Plan regular in-person visits
Even if you cannot visit your loved one very often, be sure to schedule trips to see them well in advance, so you both have it to look forward to.
Prioritise quality over quantity – even if you don’t have a lot of time to spend together, put thought and effort into making that time as special and meaningful as possible. Don’t forget to liaise with your loved one’s primary caregiver around visits as well.
7. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
Remember it’s not easy to care for a family member from a distance. Everybody’s situation is different and you must think about your own needs, as well as your loved one.
You can only do your best, and your best may not always look the same, depending on what else is going on in your life. Remember, even the smallest of actions can make a difference and help your relative feel supported and valued.