How to Make Long-Distance Caregiving Work

By Stacey Feintuch

You live far away from your mother, sister or other loved one who needs chemotherapy. As a result, your sibling or parent handle all the core responsibilities themself. You feel guilty about not being closer, not doing enough and not spending adequate time with your loved one.

If you feel as if there’s nothing you can do, think again. While it’s true that caregiving from a distance presents its own set of challenges, you can take measures help make your loved one’s life easier. Here’s how.

Get to know key players
Reach out to the members of your loved one’s medical team to introduce yourself and let them know you’ll play a part in their care. Develop a good understanding of your loved one’s issues and keep in touch with doctors and other healthcare professionals so that you can stay on top of your mother's or sister's health. Remember to ask whether your loved one needs to sign a release form so that the doctor can discuss medical issues with you.

Educate yourself
By learning all you can about their cancer, not only will you gain a better understanding of what your loved one—and the geographically closer primary caregiver—are going through; you’ll also find it easier to talk with healthcare professionals. Joining a caregiver’s support group at your local hospital or in your hometown can help you learn about the disease and answer some of your questions.

Think outside the box
Think about the kind of help you can offer from afar. You can pay bills online, deal with insurance company issues, assist in updating friends and family, research doctors and treatment options…the list goes on. Think outside the box, and you’ll see that even from a distance you can help.

Check in regularly
Be proactive! Ask the primary caregiver what tasks you could do that would help the most. And be sure to ask your loved one whether you can do anything special—either remotely or during your next visit.

Visit as much as you can
Try to see your loved one whenever you can, as long as you’ve confirmed the best times to visit. Consider booking a trip during a holiday weekend or while the primary caregiver is on vacation, when you can use the time to take over the primary caregiver’s responsibilities. Ask that person and your loved one what needs to be done while you’re in town. For example, does your mother or sister need a new pair of shoes? Does your loved one want to visit a friend or have any doctors to visit?

Connect beyond the to-do list
When you’re in town, don’t spend your whole visit with your loved one doing errands and chores. Rent a movie or go out for dinner. Spend quality time doing activities together that you enjoy.

Lend a responsive ear
Do your best to emotionally support both your loved one and the primary caregiver by letting them vent to you. Never underestimate the importance of simply being available to listen, whether it's over the phone, through e-mail, on Skype or in a text message.

Reach out to others for more info
Keep in touch with your mother's or sister's neighbors, friends and other relatives to gauge their opinion of how your loved one is doing. Schedule regular calls or online chats with the primary caregiver to get a firsthand take on the situation.

Start preparing
Build an emergency fund for unexpected flights, rental cars, gas, unpaid time off from work and other expenses. Save a few vacation or personal days for a last-minute trip to see your loved one. By putting money aside and knowing who will handle your own affairs at home—kids, mail, pets and so on—while you’re away, you can feel better prepared for spontaneous visits.

Published December 2011

  For Caregivers

Help Your Loved One With 'Chemo Brain'
8 Ways to Show Your Love
What Not to Say to Someone Having Chemo
Make Long-Distance Caregiving Work
Delight a Loved One Going Through Chemo
Get Your Loved One to Eat During Chemo
Keep Intimacy Strong

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