Caregiving: Tips for long-distance caregivers

Long-distance caregiving poses unique challenges. Find out what you can do to help your loved one from afar — and how to make the most of personal visits.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you live an hour or more away from a loved one who needs care, you might wonder what you can do to help. Start by understanding options for long-distance caregiving, ranging from coordinating services to providing respite for a primary caregiver.

What is long-distance caregiving?

Long-distance caregiving can take many forms. From afar, you might:

  • Provide emotional support to a primary caregiver
  • Coordinate services for a loved one, such as arranging for household help or in-home care, and follow up to make sure there are no problems
  • Manage a loved one's medical bills or records
  • Make yourself available for medical visits

You might also arrange to stay with your loved one while his or her primary caregiver takes time off or goes on vacation.

How can I keep on top of my loved one's care from long distance?

You can take many steps to be an effective long-distance caregiver. For example:

  • Schedule a family meeting. Gather family and friends involved in your loved one's care in person, by phone or by video chat. Discuss your goals, air feelings and divide up duties. Appoint someone to summarize the decisions made and distribute notes after the meeting. Be sure to include the loved one in need of care in the decision-making process.
  • Get organized. Compile notes about your loved one's medical condition and any legal or financial issues. Include contact numbers, insurance information, account numbers and other important details.
  • Research your loved one's illness and treatment. This will help you understand what your loved one is going through, the course of the illness, what you can do to prevent crises and how to assist with disease management. It might also make it easier to talk to your loved one's doctors.
  • Keep in touch with your loved one's providers. In coordination with your loved one and his or her other caregivers, schedule conference calls with doctors or other health care providers to keep on top of changes in your loved one's health. Be sure to have your loved one sign a release allowing the doctor to discuss medical issues with you — and keep a backup copy in your files.

    You may also be able to log into your loved one's medical records online to see test results, medications, after-visit summaries and more. Medical office staff members can tell you if they offer electronic medical records and how to request permission.

    Bear in mind that your loved one will make final health care decisions unless he or she has named a medical power of attorney. This is a type of advance directive — written, legal instructions regarding preferences for medical care. A medical power of attorney (health care proxy) makes health care decisions when a patient cannot.

  • Ask your loved one's friends for help. Stay in touch with your loved one's friends and neighbors. Ask your loved one who he or she would prefer to come around on a regular basis, and ask those people to regularly check in on your loved one. They might be able to help you understand what's going on with your loved one on a daily basis.
  • Seek professional help. If necessary, hire someone to help with meals, personal care and other needs. A geriatric care manager or social worker also might be helpful in organizing your loved one's care. Contact your Area Agency on Aging for help finding local resources.
  • Plan for emergencies. Set aside time and money in case you need to make unexpected visits to help your loved one. Consider inquiring about taking unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Stay in touch. Try sending your loved one digital movies of yourself. Send cards. Set a time each day or week for phone calls or video chats with your loved one.
  • Aug. 17, 2016 See more In-depth