If you live an hour or more away from your loved one, you are a long-distance caregiver. It is estimated that 10-15% of caregivers are travelling an hour or more to take care of a loved one! Even though you are travelling further you are providing the same level of support as those who live close by.
Caregivers take on many significant roles: scheduling appointments, providing emotional support, helping with medications, managing finances, providing meals, and keeping their home clean and safe. This can be particularly challenging when these tasks have to be managed remotely.
1. Prioritize tasks. We cannot emphasize enough the benefits to creating organization and having lists! Anxiety and stress can be high when we’re helping a loved one deal with health challenges and having a list of priorities will be able to help you know how to best direct your time. If you’re feeling frustrated and are struggling to prioritize here is an exercise that may be helpful for you.
- Make a list of everything that you can think of that you need to do regarding caring for your loved one – appointments, housekeeping tasks, personal care, meal prepping, etc.
- Go through the list and give it a number between 1 and 5 (1 being of the highest priority, 5 being of the least priority)
- Rewrite your list, dividing the tasks into levels of priority
Now you’ll have a good idea as to what MUST be done vs what would be NICE to get done. Manage your expectations and decide what you can realistically achieve. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.
- Bring in support. For many of us asking for help is hard; a way to get around this is to focus on what is best for your loved one. There are many ways to get assistance:
- Have a friend/family meeting, and see what tasks others would be willing to take on
- Look at local volunteer programs for seniors and those needing care
- Find an adult day centre to give your loved one a safe structured social environment
- Home care services can provide nursing and personal support workers that can be invaluable when caring from a distance
Getting support will allow you more time to focus on coordinating information and care, keeping your family and friends informed of any changes, getting your loved ones paperwork in order in case of emergency, and helping with their finances and paying the bills.
- Look to the future. It can be difficult to think about the future, but it is important to know what your loved one hopes for as they age. If it’s possible, discuss what the upcoming decades may look like and what your loved one would like for their care. Some conversation starters could be:
- Did you do a lot of caregiving, or was that delegated to other family members?
- In a perfect world, what does aging look like for you?
- If there was an accident and you needed care what would your expectations be?
- What did aging look like for your parents, and what would you like to be similar or different?
Talking about your loved one’s experiences with caregiving (as the giver or an observer of someone else’s experience) can be a good way to get insight into their thoughts and feelings. You can ask them if they’ve seen a friend or family member not give up their license when driving became dangerous, or refused to accept a medical diagnosis.
It gives you an opportunity to ask them how they would like you to handle the same situation. It is often easier to think clearly about what plan is best for future “might be, could happen” situations when we’re healthy. Likely this won’t be one big conversation, but a series of small conversations over time.
- Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you notice you’re exhausted all the time, are getting angry faster than you used to, or are constantly worried, you may be experiencing burnout or caregiver fatigue. Here are some self-care tips:
- Connect with other caregivers via support groups in person or online. Other caregivers can let you vent, give advice, and share resources.
- Be sure that you that you address your own health issues. If you’re sick yourself, it will be incredibly challenging to care for others.
- Give yourself time to recharge. Whether you like to exercise, curl up with a good book, listen to music, or meditate find an activity that helps you recharge your batteries and commit to it.
Today’s caregivers can suffer from mental, emotional, and physical health problems due to the stress of caring for loved ones. Caregiving is a marathon – caring for yourself is an important part of keeping yourself on the road. This will help you stay aligned with the needs of your loved one and stay calm as your role evolves.