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Long-Distance Caregiving

With Guest Contributor: Val Carter

ElderWise is frequently asked for tips for long-distance caregiving. The ordinary challenges of helping aging parents can multiply when you live thousands of miles apart or even overseas!

Val moved to Canada from England 16 years ago. She became a daughter whose parents lived "across the pond."  Having made many trips to Britain, Val shared with us some tips that she has learned over the years. Here are the biggest challenges she experienced:

  • Understanding what is going on - and encouraging family at home to be open and honest about the current situation.
  • Getting family to realize that keeping secrets may not be a kindness. It is so important to let those who are away know what is going on.
  • You have to live with consequences of your actions and inaction: e.g., do I get on a plane immediately or wait and see what happens?
  • Communication is essential.
  • The value of a "local contact" - either family or neighbours or good friends. You need to be specific about how they can be helpful to you.

Here are more suggestions from Val:

Long-distance caregivers often feel guilty. Guilt wastes time and energy, and doesn't help anyone. Try these ideas for taking action instead:

1. Help each other.
Your friend or family member may not tell you about health issues or challenges because they don't want to worry you. Explain that you'll worry more if they're not honest with you. Reassure them that your aim is not to interfere, but to support them the best way you can. Ask for their ideas on how you can help.

2. Get the facts.
You may ask someone living nearby to contact you when they feel the senior has a health or safety issue. Ask questions to determine exactly what is happening.  "Your mom's memory's gone", is an alarming message. If it turns out that Mom wrote a reminder to feed the cat, you can then explore the reasons behind the change in behaviour. Contact ElderWise, health care organizations or seniors' associations for advice.

3. Trust your local contact.
Their concerns are usually genuine. If Dad seemed his usual self while you were visiting over the holidays, you may feel the person who lives nearby is exaggerating in their updates. This may not be the case - in particular, those with dementia will often appear more capable when visitors are around.

4. Don't jump to conclusions.
If your loved one complains about neglect, remember that people with Alzheimer's disease have little short-term memory. They may forget they ate lunch, had a visitor, or went on an outing. If the senior has in-home care, or lives in a long-term care facility, try to build rapport with one or two staff members and ask when it's best to get in touch for an update. Check the facts with caregivers before complaining!

5. Understand the reasons behind a decision.
You may have concerns regarding a decision that affects the senior. Before you react, check why this decision was made. Those involved in day-to-day caregiving know the current situation, and usually have the senior's best interests at heart. They will appreciate it if you reinforce any messages they've been giving. When Uncle Joe complains that he's not allowed to drive his car, there's probably a very good reason! Don't talk him into finding the keys and going out anyway.

6. It's their life.
Unless safety is concerned, your ideas of what's right for the person you care about may be different than what they actually want or need. Ultimately it's their life, not yours.

Val Carter inspires people to create lasting change for personal and professional success. Her relaxed, inclusive approach in keynotes and workshops engages her audiences and moves them to action. She's also learned to ignore the cobwebs in her mom's pantry!

Related Reading - Past Issues of ElderWise INFO:

Aging and Memory: Senior Moments?

Computers Connecting Seniors

Helping Frail Seniors Travel

Also refer to Classic Caregivers article in the ElderWise Library: Seniors' Travel: How Caregiver Companions Help

What every Canadian with aging parents needs to know: Read our full length book:  Your Aging Parents

Vol. 5, No. 2
� Val Carter and ElderWise Publishing 2009.
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter 





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