Handling the Caregiver To Dos Long-Distance Requires Extra Organization Skills
Whether you are a lone long-distance caregiver or part of a family caregiving team, being a long-distance caregiver is a challenging position to be in. Staying on top of caregiving issues when you are not physically present is stressful. Additionally, not being physically present may leave you feeling frustrated or guilty. Long-distance caregiving is not for the faint at heart.
If you are in this challenging position, being organized is the key to your family’s success. You’ll need to make the most of your visits to your aging parents and handle as much as you can remotely to successfully manage long-distance caregiving. If you are fortunate to have local siblings who you share caregiving duties with, it is in all of your best interests to have a seamless system that you can all use.
Organization Strategies for Long-Distance Caregivers
While organization strategies are fairly personal, in that you need to create a system that works well for you (and your fellow caregivers if you are sharing the load), here are some organization strategies for long-distance caregivers.
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- Maximize Your Visits: If you are only able to visit your aging parents one or two times a year, use that time wisely. For example, if you want to hire a paid caregiver for your parent, do your research before you arrive so that you just have to do the in-person interviews when you’re in town. Or, if your aging parent hasn’t updated his/her home for aging in place, schedule the work to be done during your visit so that you can oversee the process. You should also use your visit to check your parent’s overall home safety and driving ability if they still drive.
- Create a Caregiving Binder And/Or Online File: Maybe you’re like me and prefer to use paper and pen or maybe you prefer having everything digitally. Whatever your preferred method of keeping track of things, be sure you keep everything in one place. If you are sharing caregiving duties with siblings, you may want to create a Google Drive account that you can all access for important contact information or health notes. Google Drive is free so you’ll just need to create an email address and share the information with your fellow family caregivers.
- Take Advantage of Technology and Delivery Services: If your aging parents are no longer driving, consider scheduling grocery delivery for them. Many of my clients had no idea how to place online orders and/or were concerned about using their credit cards online so they never made online purchases. If your parent isn’t computer savvy, do their online shopping for them to ensure they are eating a proper diet. You can do grocery delivery through some major grocery stores or if their local grocery store doesn’t deliver, check out Amazon Prime Now! or Instacart for grocery delivery (particularly fresh food). What else can you have delivered? Check out Amazon Prime Pantry for toilet paper and toiletry restocking.
- Lists, Lists and More Lists: Here’s where I admit I’m a planner nerd. I love making to do lists and I feel like I sleep better at night when I have my to do list ready. That way, I don’t stare at the ceiling thinking of all the things I need to do. It doesn’t matter where you keep your to do lists, just make sure you have a caregiving to do list so that you can refer to them when you have a bit of spare time to take care of your caregiving tasks. For example, maybe you want to check into classes in your mom’s community for her to learn about computers or learn knitting. Keep a list of that type of thing for when you have a bit of downtime to play on the computer. That way, you’ll have the information ready when you have time to discuss it with your mom or siblings.
- Schedule Time for Caregiving Tasks: If you haven’t heard about batch task management, it has become my new favorite way to get things done. Essentially, you do like tasks together so that your brain doesn’t have to keep jumping from one thing to another. So, for example, rather than calling your mom’s doctor to schedule an appointment, then writing a few checks for your mom’s caregiving team, then calling the senior center with questions, set aside time to just do calls, then a block of time to just do bill paying/finances, then a block of time to do research. You’ll accomplish more when your brain isn’t switching from one task to another.
- Create a Filing System: You don’t need to go out and buy a filing cabinet, just pick a place to keep all of your caregiving records/information. For example, I volunteer for a budget committee and I keep every document that I get (and need to keep) in one envelope folder, along with my notebook for the meetings. That way, when I have a meeting or am doing something for the committee, I know exactly where to look for my paperwork. Whether you use a binder, accordion file, a paper file or an electronic file, be diligent about putting EVERYTHING related to caregiving in your folder.
- Look and Listen: One advantage of being a long-distance caregiver is that you’ll probably notice small changes to your aging parent’s well-being that your local siblings may not notice. Don’t ignore your instinct. Look for differences in your parents’ appearance or differences in their home’s appearance. Listen for changes in their voice. Do they sound depressed? Are they always trying to get off the phone quickly? Do they seem confused? These are all important things to look into further and possibly discuss with their doctor.
- Handle the Legal Business Sooner, Rather Than Later: It is best to take care of uncomfortable legal caregiving issues when your aging parent is in good health and can make decisions. If you and your siblings are working as a team, make sure someone is designated as a medical power of attorney so that he/she can speak with your parent’s doctor. Don’t assume that their doctor will speak with you just because you are their child. There are legal restrictions that don’t allow doctors to share medical information with family members unless they are designated to do so.
Being a long-distance caregiver, especially if you are doing it alone, can be challenging so the more prepared you are before your visits, the better your visits will go. Even if you don’t have siblings to share the caregiving load with, try to build a local caregiving network to be your eyes and ears.
A local friend is invaluable if you need to have someone check in on your parent after a fall or need someone to drop off a prescription if your parent is ill. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If someone asked you for help, you would probably be happy to help so assume the same of your local friends, as well as your parents’ friends and neighbors.