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Caregiving From Afar: Remote Doesn't Have to Mean Removed

May 07, 2019 4 min read Ben Gran

Key Takeaways

  • 34.2 million Americans are serving as family caregivers, and 15% of these are remote caregivers.
  • New technologies make it easier to monitor your loved one's health and safety, even from afar.
  • Connect to community services and volunteer resources where your family member lives.

 

America is aging, and families are looking for innovative ways to take care of loved ones dealing with age-related health challenges. Approximately 34.2 million people1 are serving as family caregivers providing unpaid care to aging adults (age 50 and over), a number that will only continue to rise. The number of older Americans who need nursing home care in the next 10 years will increase by 75%, reaching 2.3 million people by 2030 (up from 1.3 million in 2010).2

Distance and time constraints are forcing families to reimagine what it means to be a caregiver. Remote caregiving is common, and it has its own set of unique challenges. 15% of all caregivers are long-distance or “remote caregivers" – and the number of remote caregivers is expected to double by 2020.3

It's natural to have feelings of worry and perhaps even guilt if you are a remote caregiver. Fortunately, a variety of options are available today to help remote caregivers make the best of the situation and continue to be a loving presence in the lives of their family members, even if they are not able to be physically present.

Consider these tips, tools, and strategies for remote caregivers to make your aging loved one's life the best it can be.

 

Safety monitoring technology

Today's technology is light years ahead of the classic medical alert devices, where people can push a button to call for help in case they have a medical emergency or fall and cannot get up by themselves. These solutions are still available, but a new generation of tech tools are even more elaborate and customizable to your loved one's needs.

For example, smart sensors can be installed in the home to make sure the stove gets turned off, and location-tracking GPS shoe inserts help monitor your loved one's movements and alert the caregiver if they move beyond a designated area. These solutions can be especially helpful in caring for seniors who have mobility limitations or who are living with dementia.

Other products can monitor daily activities, such as taking medication, and can send real-time alerts in case of a fall. Products such as voice assistant speakers, smart lighting with voice commands, and remote door locks can also be useful for seniors.

 

 

Mobile apps

Smartphone technology has led to the creation of a wide range of mobile apps to help make life easier for remote caregivers and their loved ones. Whether you want to stay on top of medication refills, monitor their heart rate and health indicators, or if you need an easy way to coordinate schedules with other family caregivers, there is likely a mobile app available that can help address your needs.

AARP offers a list of recommended apps for caregivers Opens in new window.

 

Telehealth and telemedicine

Telehealth and telemedicine are becoming more common for elderly patients, especially those who have dementia and who might have difficulty getting to medical appointments. Talk to your loved one's medical team and see what options are available for conducting appointments via remote video chat. Many seniors today are more comfortable than ever before with Skype, FaceTime, and other video chat technologies — the same tools that you use to keep in touch with your family can also be useful for remote therapy and medical treatment.

 

Local organizations and volunteers

Technology can be an excellent stand-in for remote caregivers, but sometimes you need the hands-on presence of a trusted relative, friend, or volunteer from the community. You are not the only one who can provide care and services to help your aging loved one stay in their homes while also receiving care. Especially in rural areas, which tend to have higher populations of elderly residents and lower access to hospitals and health care professionals, community organizations are stepping up to meet the demand for caregiving support services.

Look for volunteer organizations and agencies that are local to where your loved one lives. A variety of services are often available, for free or at low cost, to help with daily needs such as transportation to medical appointments, meal delivery, and social visits. These supportive services can help aging loved ones stay connected to the community while giving remote caregivers peace of mind.

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging provides a list of these kinds of organizations. The Family Caregiver Alliance Opens in new window also has listings of state-by-state resources where you can get information that is specific to where your loved one resides.

 

Social connections

Perhaps your loved one is doing well physically and mentally, but they're dealing with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Social relationships help people stay healthy and active during all stages of life — but they become critical as we age.4

Social interaction is integral to seniors' health, and if you live far away, it's even more important to ensure your aging relative is interacting socially and getting regular human contact. Caregivers can help by researching activities for seniors, locating resources in the community, and arranging social visits with friends or volunteers. Keeping up a daily phone or video chat can positively impact your loved one's emotional, mental, and physical health.

Being a remote caregiver can be challenging, but remember that you have options and you are not alone! Millions of others are dealing with the same challenges and sharing the same concerns – and many resources and services are available.

 

What you can do next

Check out resources for caregivers from organizations that can provide you with ideas for technology, tools, and real-life resources to help your loved one.

 

Footnotes

1 Family Caregiver Alliance, 2016
2 Population Reference Bureau, 2016
3 Family Caregiver Alliance, 2016
4 National Institute on Aging

 

 

Ben Gran is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. He writes about personal finance, financial services, technology, and business.

 

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