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Long Distance Caregiving Tips to Help Ageing Parents From Afar

Andrew Ronald
Simirity Founder | Father of Two

As a son trying to support my ageing parents, I felt doomed to failure.

I live far away from my parents, so how on earth could I provide care during their retirement years? Thankfully, long distance caregiving is possible, and we’ll explore all aspects within this article.

A multigenerational family group.

You don’t have to have moved abroad like I did to feel unable to help loved ones. Even moving to a different town, perhaps only an hour or more away from your parents, means being a primary caregiver isn’t possible. If you can’t pop in daily, your caregiving options become more limited.

This is actually quite common in the US, with 11% of caregivers, 5.6 million people living at least an hour away from those they support (according to the “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020” study).

Today, my retired parents are reasonably healthy and live together in their own home. But I wanted to be ready if the situation changed, so I spent a week researching the best practices for looking after parents from afar. This article will show you that even if you don’t live nearby, long distance caregiving techniques will help you coordinate in-home care support staff and make a massive difference to the quality of their lives.

In other words, just because we’re not there doesn’t mean we don’t care.

Jump to section:

What Is Long Distance Caregiving? 

Long distance caregivers face unique challenges in addition to the familiar concerns of local caregivers and geriatric care managers. 

The biggest challenge long distance caregivers face is making sure they’re well-informed and confident about the care the person needs.

It can be stressful not knowing what’s going on. You want to spend time with your loved one and make the right care decisions for them, but when you live an hour or more away it’s a challenge. That’s why good communication and a reliable local support team are needed to help.

Caring for someone has many different aspects; not all require caregivers to be in the local vicinity. Fortunately, there is a wide range of services, techniques, and tools to help you find the best solutions. Read on to explore checklists, tips and resources that make long distance care giving easier.

Seven Tips for Long Distance Caregiving

With access to phones and the internet, you can play a crucial role in maintaining the well-being and happiness of care recipients. This remains true, even if your loved one has dementia or other illnesses that require local services to help.

Long distance caregiving is about being the linchpin that holds everything together, or the oil in the smoothly running machine.

Let’s see how.

Tip 1 – Be a part of their daily life, even when you can’t be…

A 2020 report from NASEM showed that over one-third of adults aged 45+ feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65+ are socially isolated. Loneliness brings health risks that can be avoided by being an ever-present part of their lives, albeit remotely. 

It’s true that remote carers can’t be there holding their hand or taking them for a morning walk. But the modern world indulges us with a host of fantastic digital tools that allow us to pop in and out of their lives digitally. Phone calls, video chats, quick messages, and the latest family snaps of your kids having fun cast a ray of sunshine into their day and needn’t be too big a burden on your schedule. 

Later, we’ll explore digital tech options that help with elder care and long-distance family relationships.

Long distance caregiving in the modern world - be there for them using modern technology.

 Tip 2 – Emotional support for ageing parents 

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Leo Buscaglia

Long distance caregivers can be at the heart of a parent’s care, the literal heart, supporting them emotionally through the highs and lows. 

Emotional support is a big part of caring for an older person. Helping them with upsetting news, health challenges, depression, and anxiety is just as important as physical support. Sometimes, when the person you are caring for is physically capable, this emotional support outweighs the need for physical support. 

You can provide this support as a long distance caregiver, encouraging them over telephone calls to share their thoughts and feelings and supporting them each step of the way. 

Tip 3 – Foster a positive outlook

"When you see a person without a smile, give them yours."

Zig Ziglar

Getting old brings its challenges. 

“Don’t get old, it’s no fun!”

My dearest mother

It’s a great suggestion if only we had a choice. Getting old definitely has its downsides; even I see that in middle age. So, if getting old is inevitable, how can we help our parents get through the hard times and put that smile on their faces, even in the down times?

Staying positive – using positive expressions

Adopting a positive outlook smooths the inevitable bumps on the road. Putting on rose-tinted glasses makes everything look better, which makes us feel better, which gives us the motivation and grit to push through. Believing it all will be fine helps make it so.

It can be challenging, especially if you are on your own. Thankfully, your parents have you at the other end of the phone or video call, reminding them of the positives. 

Try incorporating simple expressions like these into your daily conversations. With repetition, they go a long way towards a positive mindset. Make them your family mottos or mantras:

  1. You’re doing great – keep doing what you’re doing.
  2. Keep smiling – it’s going to be fine.
  3. You’ve overcome so much already – this will be easy for you.
  4. This too will pass and better days await.
  5. We’re with you every step of the way.
  6. There is no way this is going to get the better of you!
  7. One day at a time is all we’re thinking of. 
  8. Let’s get the little things done right each day, and the rest will take care of itself.

Simple sentences like these help to set the tone for how you view the situation. Yes, there is a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable, and this too shall pass!

Staying positive – reminiscing about the past

Focusing thoughts on today’s challenges can take its toll. 

Shift focus to the good times from the past, which can evoke feelings of joy and nostalgia while igniting fun conversations you’ll both treasure. Here are three ways to do this:

  1. Go through their old family photos and collect some of interest to review together.
  2. Talk about happy family times you remember.
  3. Ask questions about their past that you would love to know about. For example, stories about your toddler years, about their childhood adventures with friends or perhaps about your extended family. Get some inspiration from this list of questions for parents or from Simirity’s Story Prompts where there are 100’s of ideas you can explore together. Sadly, many people regret not thinking about these questions until it’s too late to ask. Grab this opportunity and enjoy uplifting conversations that foster positive thinking while discovering stories you’ll treasure forever. 

Staying positive – creating plans to look forward to

Schedule future plans to brighten today.

The opposite of reminiscing is creating plans for a bright future.

Put dates in their calendar for events they can look forward to, from minor social engagements in their local community to planned visits from family. Highlight coming TV programs if that helps! These build a sense of anticipation and excitement, providing something to look forward to.

No one likes to have nothing to look forward to – thankfully, with you and your extended family’s help, it needn’t be like that.

Review these points in a family meeting

You need not be alone in this!

If you have siblings and extended family, set up a family meeting to introduce these techniques. As a unified front, you will surround your loved one with positive thoughts, happy memories and things to look forward to. 

Tip 4 – Regular questions to understand their situation

You don’t need to have feet on the ground to play detective and figure out how well cared for they are. Here are some simple questions you can repeat regularly to ensure those you care for get the support they need.

  • How are you doing?
  • Are you following your medication schedule?
  • Do you have any new medical appointments or feedback from past appointments?
  • Have you been outside lately? How was it?
  • What did you have for dinner yesterday?
  • Is there anything you need help with?
  • How are the people taking care of you?

It’s all too easy to assume the best and that nothing’s changed. Don’t assume that the local caregivers are doing a good job, that your loved one’s home continues to be in good shape, or that their health conditions remain unchanged.   

Don’t assume. Ask.  

There’s nothing worse than discovering something important only when it’s too late. 

Tip 5 – Keep communication flowing

Communication is key, and ensuring the smooth flow of information about the person you are caring for is a role you can fulfil remotely. 

Local care managers, doctors, neighbours, family members, licensed nurses or social workers all need to be kept in the loop in a timely way. If needed, establish regular online meetings with the managing nurse or physician to get updates. Create a digital space where staff, friends and family who visit regularly can share updates to ensure nothing gets overlooked. 

Organisation is key, especially regarding treatments and medical requirements. Dates should be noted to track any changes in behaviour, health, or other relevant information. 

By ensuring this communication hub is working well, you’re providing a vital part of the framework needed to support your loved one.

And all from your home…

Tip 6 – Look for signs of ill health

Time spent in video calls with your parents may mean you are the first to spot signs of ill health.

Here are a few personal care and mental awareness things to look out for.

  • An unkempt appearance, especially if that’s not normal.
  • Wearing the same clothes for several days in a row.
  • Bumps, scrapes, or other wounds.
  • Forgetfulness.
  • Confusion.

Once spotted, share with your community of caregivers to hear their opinions. 

Tip 7 – Supporting the primary caregiver 

Often, one individual shoulders the bulk of caring for an elderly family member, becoming the primary caregiver. Fortunately, this makes it simpler for you – a single ‘go-to’ care professional that you can work with from afar. 

What are the most important things you can do to help the day-to-day caregiver? The only way to know is to ask, so ask, and ask regularly as it might change over time. 

As your parents caregivers 'how can I help?'

Being the day-to-day caregiver is a challenging but rewarding role to play. In a 2020 US survey, 51% of respondents said they had felt good about their role, but it came at the cost of emotional stress.

Knowing that people appreciate and support them in their work makes a huge difference, particularly for primary caregivers who often feel unseen. So make regular contact with the primary caregiver a top priority for you.

Technology for Long Distance Caregiving

From video calls to answering someone’s front door, technology is here to help. 

One increasingly standard device that can help in several ways is an internet-enabled tablet. Our family use Apple iPads and has found their interface to be as user-friendly as can be expected. My Mum has certainly mastered using it for day-to-day activities. 

Let us look in more detail at four common challenges that technology solves.

Challenge 1 – Is their day going according to plan?

You just want to know that everything is OK.

They got up as expected, and all the activities of daily living went as planned, with no falls or mishaps.

Perhaps the simplest way to check what’s happening at their home is with a smart device like the Amazon Echo Show, where the built-in camera can be used to see what is happening in the room where it’s installed. There are many home devices like this of course; one great alternative you can scale to cover multiple rooms is Google’s Nest Cam.

For additional reassurance try a complete system custom-made for supporting elderly living alone, like that provided by Envoyathome.

Challenge 2 – Are they healthy and feeling well?

Medical conditions and side effects from taking medicines make the ability to track physical health a real comfort.  

Fortunately great wearable solutions like the Apple Watch Series 9 have a heart sensor, electrocardiogram (ECG) to ensure a healthy heart, and a blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor that can spot other health issues.

One more recent technological development that can really help is crash and fall detection.  In the event of a car crash or sudden fall, the wearer is prompted to request help. If they are unable to, all their emergency contacts will automatically receive a message. What great peace of mind…

This article compares different Apple Watch models with reference to their benefits for older people. The latest versions have the fanciest features of course, but also the largest screen, which may be helpful for people who are hard of sight

Challenge 3 – How can I stay a part of their daily life?

With many different video calling options like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype, it’s easy to talk and see your loved ones. You can also use the Amazon Echo Show, discussed earlier, for this.

Together thanks to modern technology.

Challenge 4 – Have they taken their medicine?

How can you be sure if you’re not physically there checking? 

Tools like Liveiathome simplify the medicine delivery process for your parent and notify you via an app, ensuring that pills aren’t forgotten or over-consumed.

Checklist for Visits

On those special occasions when you can visit, talk with your parent beforehand.

What would they like to do during your visit? If necessary, consult with the main caregiver to understand their needs. You might be able to assist with some of their caregiving duties.

Your goal is to understand what’s achievable during your visit, even if some of your plans have to be postponed.

Here are four areas to consider as you get ready to visit:

1. Quality time with your loved one 

During short visits, it’s too easy to get caught up in tasks and overlook spending quality time together. Prioritise activities unrelated to caregiving, be that reviewing recent family photos, going out on a walk or playing scrabble. These simple moments make the day special, so don’t overlook them.

2. Reassess care needs

Though video calls are great, they don’t show the whole picture.

Use your visits to determine whether their current level of support is appropriate or if additional help or equipment is needed. Discuss your ideas with the local support team – this is their area of expertise and can help you make a decision. 

3. Look for physical signs of harm

It doesn’t even bear thinking about it, but sometimes support services harm instead of help.

A 2023 study discussed here in the US showed that approximately 10% of individuals aged 60+ who reside in their own homes will encounter abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that figure increases to 16% at nursing homes and other care facilities. 

So whether your parent lives at home with home help or in a nursing home, you need to be aware of this and check your parent’s physical condition. The most common injuries are to the face and neck region.

Older adults with dementia are particularly prone to abuse, with 50% reporting abuse of some kind (physical, neglect or psychological). 

4. Assess home health 

Is their home in need of maintenance?

If the person needing care lives on their own property, ensuring it is fit for purpose on your visits is essential for their well-being and will reassure you of their safety when you are back home.

Run through their daily movements and ensure everything seems in good shape. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Air conditioning systems: Checking air filters have been cleaned. 
  • Plumbing: No leaking taps or clogged sinks.
  • Electrical systems: Are there exposed wires? Any circuit breakers triggered? Are the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors equipped with good batteries?
  • Roof and Gutters: Inspect the roof for damaged or missing shingles, and clean gutters and downspouts to prevent water damage and ice dams.
  • Exterior Maintenance: Do all the doors and windows open and close easily? Are there any gaps that need attention?
  • Landscaping: Does anything growing outdoors need trimming?
  • Appliances: Are kettles, refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, and washing machines working correctly? If not, you’ll be pleased to have them fixed or replaced while you are there.

You might want to locate services that can help with maintenance tasks for when you are back home.

Your Support Team

Although certain tasks can be effectively managed from a distance, such as managing finances and coordinating care professionals, you need help with tasks that require a physical presence.

Don’t overstretch yourself or place unrealistic expectations on yourself.

You simply can’t do it all remotely. Accept that, and invest your time and energy researching people and services that can provide long-term care assistance. Many caregivers are available to help; you just have to find those best suited to your parents’ needs and style of care. At the end of this article are website links where you can find licenced professionals in your area. 

Building a trusted team

Beyond medical professionals, it’s important to reach out to friends, family and community groups to form a network of caregiving helpmates. Remember to consider your loved one part of the team.

When you hire someone, it’s great if you can spend time with the person, even if it’s only a video call. And make sure your loved one feels comfortable with them too. You need to hire home care that they value. 

Over time, if your loved one needs additional assistance, you may need additional help, respite care (limited-time assistance programs) or a new home with in-house support services.

Determining roles and coordinating the team 

Finding and hiring support services is just the start.

Ensure everyone is clear about their role, from large tasks like medical support to small but equally important tasks such as house visits or dropping off shopping. 

Someone has to take charge for coordinating all these people.

Checklist for Long Distance Caregiving

We’ve covered a lot in the article. Here’s a long distance caregiving list to ensure nothing gets missed.

  • Support Team: Building a trusted team is essential to helping an ageing loved one. It’s not just about hiring the right people; grease the wheels by introducing them to each other and connecting them digitally (where appropriate). A purpose built communication tool specially for this is but you can also use regular apps like WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal to ensure everyone is in the loop.
  • Contact details: Write down the contact details of their doctors and medical team.
  • Trusted friends and neighbours:  Get to know the people who support your parent. Introduce yourself and gather their contact details. If your parent lives in an area prone to disasters, get the details for the local emergency preparedness office.
  • Travel planning: How would you travel to them fast in case of need? What routes or flights could you use? How would you manage time off work? Can you discuss emergency plans with your company so that in the stress of the moment, that’s one less thing to worry about? 
  • Share calendar: Create a collaborative calendar online or on a mobile app to organise schedules with other caregivers.
  • Emergency plan: Be prepared with a plan in case their health declines and they require extra assistance.
  • Paying bills: This is especially import if you parents has dementia. Get to grips with who needs paying when, making sure there are no surprises like services being cut off due to unpaid bills. There may even be everyday expenses to consider. 
  • Home chores: If your parent lives at their home, it’s a good idea to keep track of chores that will need doing. They might mention a problem on a call, just note it down and investigate it on your next visit. 
  • Important paperwork and info:
    • Health information.
    • Medications being taken.
    • Medicare/Medicaid number.
    • Medicare prescription drug coverage.
    • Health Insurance Plans.
    • Financial information. Review to see if any financial decisions need to be taken.
    • Bank account information, location of any safe deposit box, and list of local utilities.
    • Social Security Number and other identifying information.
    • Estate planning documents.
    • A durable power of attorney, living will, last will and testament living trust.

Resources for Long Distance Caregiving

Here are a few long distance caregiving resources that can help. 

Local Alzheimer’s Association

Eldercare Locator

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

National Alliance for Caregiving

National Institute for Ageing

Age UK

Look After Yourself

Life distance caregiving is hard, and you must look after yourself before you can look after others.

Make time for yourself, seek support from friends and other caregivers, and consider joining a support group to connect with others in similar situations. You need not be alone in this. 

How Simirity App Helps Long Distance Caregiving

Simirity is a family business with challenges just like yours.

Our family taking a break from walking the coastal path.

We span several generations, and supporting our retired parents is so important we built an app to help us stay connected even though we live apart. We started out using social media and messaging apps, but great though they were, they were not optimised for our family’s needs. 

As previously discussed, regular communication is an integral part of supporting ageing parents. Ideally, with conversations going beyond the weather and today’s menu. That’s where Simirity can excel.

Simirity App is a private storytelling app that unites your extended family in stories, even if you live apart.

Over time, your entire family can build an archive of digital stories, filled with memorable photos, videos and audio, that share your experiences with young generations.

Here are six ways Simirity App is helping me connect with my parents and keep them engaged from afar:

  1. It inspires meaningful conversations as we discover stories from the family’s past. Keep the entire family upbeat and engaged.
  2. It connects the entire family in stories. What do my parents love the most? Quality time with their grandchildren, of course. But general discussions over video don’t always keep the young ones entertained. With new stories about their grandparents’ lives, our children have new and interesting topics to talk about with their grandparents.
  3. My parents have had so much fun digging into their past. It’s the perfect activity for a rainy day stuck inside: reviewing old photos, researching places from their past online, and writing about things they haven’t taken the time to ever think about properly. I’ve learned so much in the process, about my Dad’s younger years living in South Africa, about my Mum’s surprising interest in acting, and about their parents’ experiences during the war. 
  4. Creating stories that add value to our family life gives a real sense of purpose and achievement. If we didn’t create these stories, they would be forgotten, but now they can be enjoyed by today’s and tomorrow’s family.
  5. We’ve all felt the satisfaction of publishing a story, knowing the joy it will bring others. Like the buzz of giving a present that you know someone will appreciate. And this really matters, especially for retired people, who might miss that feeling of doing something that brings joy to others. 
  6. Each day, we receive story anniversary notifications about stories from our family’s past. Reminders of special times 9 years ago with our boys when they were just babies. Memories of graduating from university 25 years ago today! And even stories from my great grandparents dating back to the 1800s, preserved in a written diary we digitised. This sort of new uplifts and enriches our lives each day. And gives us something to look forward to that can surprise and delight everyone in the family. 

But don’t take my word for it. My Dad wrote about his experiences using the Simirity App during his retirement in this article.

Introduction to the Simirity App

If you would like to learn more about the Simirity App, visit our home page.

Closing Thoughts on Long Distance Caregiving

It doesn’t feel good being away from ageing parents.

Some things, like where we live, can’t be easily changed.

But regardless of where we live, there is a lot we can do to help. A great place to start is by reviewing the checklist above.

Make their retirement years special, filled with great memories you’ll treasure forever. 

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