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How to be a good long distance caregiver

Written by Diane Archer

If you do not live close enough to someone you love to stop in and see whether she needs help, how would you know?  What are the signs that this person needs support? And, how can you be a good long distance caregiver?

Whether or not you know it, if you live too far away to visit regularly, just staying in phone touch with an older person you love makes you a long distance caregiver. You are providing emotional support. But, phone contact alone still makes it hard to know much about your loved one’s care needs. Your loved one may be able to pick up the phone but still may be struggling to bathe or feed herself. And she may not want you to worry about her or simply might be too embarrassed to discuss her challenges.

One way to know whether this person is managing on her own is to ask whether you can speak to her neighbors, friends or doctor. In addition to asking them how your loved one is doing, you could let them know that you would like to be of help and that they can call you with any concerns. You might also ask for permission to reach out to them on a regular basis.

Of course, you also want to speak with your loved one and the primary caregiver, if there is one, about how you can be of most service.

As a long distance caregiver, you could help your loved one manage money or pay bills. You could arrange for paid caregivers. You could help her find supportive housing if needed. You could share information about your loved one’s health and care needs with other friends and family who want to be of help. And, you could help your loved one get her affairs in order in case of emergency.

Beyond that, you should contact the local area agency on aging at 1-800-677-1116 or at to learn about community resources. And, try as best as possible to understand your loved one’s health condition and care needs.

Before you visit, ask your loved one what she would like to do when you get together. Ask whether it is OK to speak to her primary caregiver, if she has one, to better understand her needs. When you visit, check your loved one’s home for safety issues and other issues that need addressing. And, be sure to have some fun–play cards, take a walk or a drive, visit with friends and family.

Afterwards, consider emailing the list of people who care for your loved one to update them.

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