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Long-Distance Caregiving

Kent and I are in Irvine California for two weeks while Kent is getting some medical support. Even while we are gone we are still the caregivers/managers of our sons who are at home. I brought some reading material and I found the following article from the Salt Lake County Caregiver Support Program and I thought that it was helpful so I am sharing it here:

“Caregivers who support their family and friends from a distance often face uncertainty, fear, guilt, frustration and powerlessness. It is hard to know what to do, or how to assist those far away. Long-distance caregivers can also face insecurity of space and time because they cannot rush over to mom’s or always be there when something goes wrong. This leads to perception roadblocks—where it is easy to jump to conclusions, or become judgmental because words (phone calls/texts) do not show the real time efforts of those far away. If it cannot be seen, the distant caregiver fears it did not happen. It takes courage and trust in others to be a good long-distance caregiver.

There are six ways, which we call The Six Rs, that help long-distance caregivers find ways to support and assist those local individuals who are providing the day-to-day care:

1. Relate. Listen to understand, not to answer. Try not to out-guess the direction of the conversation. Avoid statements like, “If I were there…,” “If I were you…”, or “You should…”. Instead, say something like, “How can I help…”, “I found a fun resource…”, or “What can we try next?”. Hold accusations and relationship issues in check. Focus on the theme of the discussion, not the emotion. Solutions are found in “what” needs to be done, not in arguing about “why” or “how” it should work. Work together to find a new “how”.

2. Reframe. Shift your perception. Find solutions from where the local person stands. Each person has different skills, abilities, and emotional thresholds. Share and coach, do not require. Go slow. Another thought, if you are the Financial Power of Attorney and live in the distance, please remember that no one can work 24/7—even if the local sibling is getting free room and board to care for mom. Be a little more lenient with resources.

3. Research. Do not wait to be asked or told to help. Focus on the theme of conversations or phone calls from the local family caregiver or professionals. What research options do these offer? “I need time off”. “I’m tired of cooking and cleaning”. “Mom leaves the stove on”. “Jake will only eat things in a tortilla”. Find tools and resources that assist those themes—a senior companion, adult day services, meal delivery, or self-care events.

4. Restore. Provide a service or tool that will help the caregiver or care receiver repair their emotions, intellect, or energy. Embrace technology so you can see body language and expressions via Zoom or Facetime. Attend online training/support groups together—close the distance gap, “show” them your support. If you are financially able, or govern a care receiver’s funds, please note that a break for the caregiver, such as food delivery each Friday, a weekend get-away, or a spa day are cheaper than paying non-family to do full time care.

5. Reward. Share gratitude, give courage, or congratulate the caregiver/care receiver on their success. Say thank you and use words like “that must be very difficult”. Avoid words like “get some sleep, it will look better in the morning”, because it may not. Acknowledge the work done. Send thank you cards. Staying healthy requires physical, mental, and emotional release. Caregivers who are constantly told what to do or who are made to feel less than they are does not help a care situation. The best reward is a listening ear and kindness.

6. Remind. Gently guide a person or caregiver back on course. Encourage boundaries and point out necessary behavioral adjustments. Do not judge. Focus on the actual behavior of the local individuals. Set emotions aside. Offer honest insight/concerns. “I’ve noticed in our last few calls… what can I do to help? I’m getting worried.” “Are you still able to care at this level?” “The behavior you are experiencing with ____is abusive.” “Tel him it needs to stop or…” (give permission)”. File reports, if needed—keep both the caregiver and care receiver safe.

The role of the long-distance caregiver is to be the coach, the listening ear, and the idea person. Watch for burnout and compassion fatigue when you call, supporting and visiting if and when you can. Call in professionals if needed.

The long-distant caregiver is not responsible for the decisions and implementation the locals make. What works in their area? What do they have the energy to do? What makes sense to them? What have they already tried? Did it work? Relate. Reframe. Research. Restore. Reward. Remind. Forgive yourself for not being there and do the best you can.”

Being a long-distance caregiver, whether when you are out of state or just living down the street, can be complex. Always be aware of the fact that your observations are those of an outsider looking in. Sometimes your distant observations are extremely helpful and you might be able to see a bigger picture than those on the front-line. But also be aware that to be helpful to those on the front-line you need to put yourself in their shoes. Be sensitive and compassionate in your interpretations and advice.

I always try to be sensitive of my care recipients and thank them for letting me offer insight. I also remind them that they are the ones living in the situation and they might have a better picture than me. I am here to support them, not criticize them. These comments seem to keep the communication open and not cause conflicts between us.

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