Caregiving in-person can be physically exhausting. Caregiving long distance can be mentally tortuous.
When you are responsible for a loved one (or feel you should be) and you cannot see first-hand what the situation is, it can be very stressful. You may call and your Dad does not answer. You know he “should be there”, but he is not answering the phone. He could have fallen and injured himself – or he could be enjoying a cookout with the neighbors. Or he just forgot to plug in his cellphone. You can only allow yourself so many police wellness-checks before your welcome is worn out at the local constabulary.
Then there are the routine things that you worry about that are of less immediate concern but important. Are medications being taken correctly? Are your parents eating well? Even living a short distance away, stress on your life can be significant.
Here are a few ways to reduce your stress in dealing with an older loved one with whom you do not live:
1. Set up a routine. Make sure your number is on speed-dial and set an Alexa reminder to call you at the same time every day. Make an agreement that the call should be made even if your loved-one is not at home (cell phones have alarms, too.) Then, should you not get the call, move to the next step, a Back-up Routine.
2. Set up a Back-up Routine. Enlist the help of a neighbor or other contact in your loved-one’s same city that can conveniently check in when necessary. This is even more important when memory issues are present. Further, it is important that your requests be very specific (maybe a checklist) rather than “Please, ‘look in’ on Mom.”
3. Visit regularly. Whether near or far, your eyes are more important than whatever you hear on the phone. You may be told “everything is fine” on the phone, but you (or your back-up representative) want to visit to see for yourself. When you do, look for tell-tale signs that things might not be as reported; things like expired food, unopened mail or things around the house that need repairs. And, even if the neighbors are not officially in your back-up routine, have conversations with them to see if they have noticed anything that is not “quite right”.
4. Look for “Show-Timing”. When your visits are announced, it is possible that your loved-one will get things that are not normally the way they live into tip-top shape especially for your visit. Should you suspect this is the case, consider an unannounced visit. Or, during an announced visit, check for signs of hiding the real situation by looking in closets, drawers or the basement where extra clutter might be temporarily stored. While this may feel like “snooping” remember your mission – the well-being of your loved one.
5. Relax: Silence is not necessarily a crisis. Once you have set measures in place to give you peace of mind as a long-distance caregiver. You will not tend to assume that every missed call means something is wrong.
One more thought: In the absence of volunteer help for loved-ones from whom you live apart, there are many highly-qualified home care and home health care agencies available (the distinction is that home care agencies provide non-medical assistance while home health care agencies are qualified to deal with medical issues.) Most will do home safety inspections, interview your loved-one and make specific recommendations for what types of help is needed and what help they can provide on an interim or long-term basis.
As you set up arrangements with a professional organization, you will be able to establish a detailed plan of care that follows a checklist of the things about which you are the most concerned. Your loved-one will fall into the routine of what is expected and will generally find it as comforting as you do.