How to Be a Caregiver from a Distance

Elderly parent using a tablet to see his family

Worried about a parent on the other side of the country? You’re not alone. These days, many families are separated by miles — and COVID-19 restrictions make things even tougher.

Even if you live close by, today’s health and safety concerns are likely throwing a wrench in your care plans. No matter how cautious you are, if you start to work in the office or get outside your home more often, you may increase risks and exposures. Whether you live near or far, how can you coordinate care arrangements that offer day-to-day or last-minute support and keep your loved ones safe when you can’t be there?

According to Sharon Roth Maguire, a geriatric nurse practitioner, caring for loved ones is a common concern that people need help with. As chief clinical quality officer for BrightStar Care, a home healthcare agency, Sharon often provides assistance for families navigating the long-distance chasm. Sharon says there are a number of steps you can take to find adult or elder care when you need it, including looking to professional or government resources, your employer, medical groups, religious communities, or even students.

Professional Resources: The number of homecare providers is growing. Many can be found using online search terms like “homecare for seniors.” Remember, bringing caregivers into your home can open you up to liability if there’s a mishap. For that reason, Sharon says, “It’s always better to go with a reliable, accredited entity that is following national guidelines.”

Government Resources: State and local agencies, such as the department or Office of Elder Affairs and other health services, as well as the local senior center, can be great resources for continued support in your parents’ state.

Your Employer: Have you checked your company benefits recently? More and more employers are offering back-up care (like our own Bright Horizons Back-Up Care program) to send a provider in a pinch. Need more help? You might have access to a service that offers things like a care coordination platform, guidance on long-term care options, referrals, and more (like our own Bright Horizons Elder Care). Check with your HR department or benefits portal.

Medical Groups: Associations for medical conditions (the Parkinson’s Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association, for example) can often point you to providers in their specialties. Start with the national office and ask if there are chapters in your area.

Religious Communities: Caring for a parent is about more than medicine it’s about companionship, too. And churches, synagogues, and other religious groups are stellar sources for finding everything from good neighbors who can do socially-distanced meal drop-offs, to social engagements such as virtual game nights.

Students: Tech-savvy high school students can get seniors up to speed on social platforms and devices, tackling one of the biggest obstacles to staying in touch: tech-phobia. Even better, the senior/teen social engagement benefits both sides of the generation gap. Many schools have service programs for such arrangements — and today, they might even be able to set up a virtual meeting or a simple phone call to see what your loved one can tackle on their own. Call the local principal’s office or school board to find out what’s offered in their area.

Finally, it’s important to know what your parents want. The most successful arrangements will be in line with their preferences. That means that ideally — long before mom and dad need care — you’ll want to have a candid conversation about the future.“My mom hated having those conversations,” Sharon recalls of her own experiences. “But I would say, ‘It would make me feel better to talk about this, because I’d hate to be in a situation where I didn’t know what you wanted or where things were.’”They’re tough talks to have, but ultimately, when the time comes, you’ll be glad you did.