Caregiving Tip Sheet – Practical Tips for Long Distance Caregiving

This is a great article written by Brenda Wilson, MSW, LCSW, CEAP about long distance care giving with the suggestion of utilizing the services of a geriatric care manager.  For more information about geriatric care management services in Raleigh, NC, view my website: and request a free report.


The July 2004 MetLife Survey on Long Distance Caregiving found that for people involved in Long Distance Caregiving, the average distance between elders and their caregivers is 450 miles and that the caregivers had substantial regular and personal contact with their loved ones. About one-fourth of the LD caregivers reported they were the primary caregiver and about 80% were working either full or part time. Long distance caregivers also spend an average of $392/month on travel and out-of-pocket expenses. So, obviously the people providing and anticipating providing care from a distance are very involved and usually need all the help they can obtain.

First – Plan Ahead

Have family discussions about the “What If’s” regarding: 

  • Living situation preferences depending on severity and who is involved – play out some scenario’s for discussion: CVA, fractured hip requiring rehab stay. 
  • How will you know when “it’s time” to make a change? What would this look like? 
  • Advance Directives for decision making are very important for everyone over age 18 – keep a copy of your elders’ with you.

Use a Records and Information Organizer to gather and review pertinent information such as: 

  • Who their doctors are, their address and phone numbers, 
  • What prescription and non-prescription medicines they take,
  • What drug store is used their telephone number,
  • What the Medicare, Medicaid or other health insurance numbers are,
  • What important papers exist and where are they kept, 
  • What the banking and financial information includes, 
  • Who the legal and financial experts in their area are, 
  • What are the social security numbers, medical record number’s and military ID numbers, and 
  • Who the informal support resources are and how to contact them.

Go over this information together once/year or when something changes. Consider banking co-signatures, auto bill pay, automatic deposit of all income and online banking. Set yourself and perhaps your elders up with a long distance telephone service that gives you a monthly rate, 1-800 telephone number or method to make as many long distance calls as necessary without constraint.
Include the elders in all of this.

Second – Collect Functional Information Along the Way

Regularly think about and assess how the elder is really doing? Nutrition and grocery shopping, cognition, socializing and getting out, substance use, pain control, depression, getting to doctor’s appointments – does anything here need attention and some external support? 

  • Identify the registered nurse working with your elder’s doctor and maintain communication with that person. 
  • Be sure there is a HIPPA Release of Information Form on file at all your elder’s doctors’ offices so you can talk openly with the doctor, and keep one for yourself. 
  • Have regular telephone contact with your elders to check in and help them problem-solve. 
  • Maintain a list of the informal local resources: neighbors, church friends, other relatives who can be part of your elder’s support network. Maintain that network and let them know how to reach you and that you welcome their calls. 
  • Avoid overreacting or minimizing. 
  • Schedule visits regularly and plan ahead before you visit.
  • Set some goals and appointments to concur with your visits. 
  • Take your elders out while there to see how they function in the community and with others. 
  • Assess the home safety each time you visit: lighting, locks, telephone access. 
  • Keep a fairly up to date telephone book /yellow pages for their area with you.
Third – Know When to Travel 
  • Is this a real medical or care crisis? Ask the physician, social worker, or nurse for information and their opinion on whether you should travel in – as part of your decision making – not all of it. 
  • Assess what can you achieve while there and what are the consequences of not going. 
  • Can someone else locally take care of the issue at hand or eyeball the situation for you? 
  • How will this trip affect your own personal situation: children/partner, finances, work & leave time. 
  • It’s OK to go there just to put your mind at ease as well. If staying home and worrying is going to be less productive for you, then perhaps you should go on. 
  • Have some cash available for emergency travel. Have an extra set of your elder’s house and car keys with you and with a reliable neighbor of theirs.
Fourth – Consider Using a Geriatric Care ManagerProfessionals with specialized training to: 


  • Assess the situation,
  • Identify problems, gaps, strengths and resources, 
  • Monitor,
  • Screen and arrange for other services and assistance,
  • Coordinate with financial, legal and medical providers,
  • Liaison to families, and 
  • Provide crisis intervention.

Brenda Wilson is a Faculty Employee Assitance Program (FEAP)Consultant and Eldercare Specialist for the University of Virginia Health System

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