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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Senior Living

Long Distance Caregiving

My father lives by himself almost a thousand miles from my home.

What can I do from such a distance to help him?

Caregiving is often a long-term task. What begins with an occasional phone call to share family news can become daily contact to manage the demands, small and large, of another person's life. The monthly trip to check on Mom becomes the major project transitioning her to an assisted living or managed care facility close to your home.

Although mid-life, working women with their own major family responsibilities remain our primary caregivers, more and more men are becoming caregivers. However, anyone anywhere can give care—regardless of gender, income, age, social status, and employment. No matter how great the distance, being helpful is what counts.

Here are some tips from an NIA booklet called So Far Away: Twenty Questions for Long-Distance Caregivers:

  1. Seek out help from people in the community: the next-door neighbor, an old friend, the doctor. Call them. Tell them what is going on. Make sure they know how to reach you.
  2. If there is already an on-site caregiver, identify options to help them if a crisis occurs. Making prior arrangements can make things easier when a crisis occurs.
  3. Get a directory of senior resources and services from the local library or senior center, and check for updates on these resources. This helps everyone know what's out there and begin "plugging into networks."
  4. Pull together a list of the person's prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines, including doses and schedules. This is essential for emergencies. Update the list regularly.
  5. Discuss an advance directive that states your parents' health-care treatment preferences. If he or she does not have one, talk about setting it up. If there is, make sure you have a copy and know where the original is kept. You might want to make sure the person's doctor has a copy for the medical record.

Summer 2009 Issue: Volume 4 Number 3 Page 7