5 Long-Distance Caregiving Tips: A Help for Senior Caregivers

In Home Help for Seniors, Assisted Home Care, Care for Older People, Disability Home Care, Elderly Home Assistance, Elderly Home Care Service, Private Pay Home Care, Senior Companion Care, Senior Home Assistance, Taking Care of Elderly Parents“Aunt Mary” was always the social one, and “Uncle Roger” was the one hanging in the background, interjecting with the occasional hilarious joke.  When Aunt Mary died, everyone assumed that Uncle Roger wouldn’t live very long after.  He was so used to being taken care of, he didn’t even know what monthly bills to pay or how to pay them.  Fortunately, he survived for six more years.

The unfortunate part was that Roger lived four hours from his nearest family.  Roger and Mary never had any children, and although they were in regular communication with their nieces, the distance was a real problem.  Nobody in the family could really tell how Roger was getting along.

This dilemma is not unfamiliar to many who are taking care of elderly parents and relatives from a distance.  You aren’t sure if Mom or Dad is being honest about what’s going on.  You can’t physically see their space to look for telltale clues that there are problems.  As a result, the family becomes entirely reliant upon the senior’s perception of their situation, which may or may not be distorted.

For many seniors, the greatest fear is no longer being able to live at home.  Because Roger watched as his brother’s family forced his brother into a nursing home, it tainted his relationship with his nieces.  Although his family came to visit and do homemaking tasks while Mary was alive, Roger wasn’t so open to it after she was gone.  When his family came to town, Roger often met them at a restaurant rather than inviting them to his home.

When Roger died at age 92, it was apparent to his nieces that, although he was safe to live at home, he could have used some homemaking help and a second set of eyes to check in.  There were piles of dirty dishes, stacks of unopened mail, and dust and dog hair covering everything.  In the few years since Mary’s passing, many of his belongings—furniture, decorative items—were in such bad shape, they needed to be thrown out.

So how do you manage a long-distance caregiving relationship?

1.  Be Aware that Most Seniors Want to Stay at Home

Their motivation to stay home may affect how elderly family members communicate to you about what is happening in their home.  If you are entirely reliant on what they tell you over the phone or via email, you may not be getting the whole picture.  Instead of admitting that they’ve been falling, for example, they may say that their refrigerator handle just happened to fall off.  They may not divulge that they got lost on their way to the veterinarian.

2.  Have a Heart-to-Heart Discussion

Share your concerns in a non-threatening manner.  Assure them that you want to help them remain at home by being involved.  Talk about your concerns, and make a plan on how to minimize risks in the home.  For more information on this, read our blog “I Get By (Better) with a Little Help from My Friends.

3.  Visit Periodically

If you can, make a point of visiting, and be deliberate in offering assistance around the home.  Read our blogHome for the Holidays Part 1: 6 Signs Grandma Needs Help” for ideas of what to watch for when visiting.

With Roger’s family, the key would have been to make a point of going to the house and inviting themselves in.  Although it may have appeared rude, dropping in would have given a clearer picture of what was going on and how the family or others could have helped.

4.  Enlist the Assistance of an Elderly Home Care Service

For Roger, a regular visit from an at-home caregiver would have been enough to enrich the last few years of his life and improve the quality of his life, not to mention keeping his house clean and protecting the value of his belongings.  If needed, he also could have had access to a PCA or a Home Health Aide to assist with personal cares. In-home senior care providers become the eyes and ears for family members who cannot be regularly present.  They can share with families the concerns they see, such as fall hazards or changes in health, cognition, and diet.

5.  Keep in Contact with Neighbors

It’s not uncommon for seniors to have a network of neighbors checking in on them.  These neighbors’ eyes won’t be the same as your eyes, but get their phone numbers and don’t hesitate to check with them periodically.  They may have noticed that Grandma isn’t getting out like she used to or that Grandpa seems a little confused recently.  These details could prove to be helpful as you try to gauge what is happening in the home.

Julie Ellingson, LSW

June 18, 2012


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Comments (4)


  1. Paul says:

    Hi, very good piece, as long distance caring is a reality for many people. I agree with all the points above and am part of a technology company developing solutions to support people in such a situation. We have developed apps (myhomereach) for a tablet and smartphone that support the communication (video conf) and coordination of care, to include family friends neighbors etc. While this does not replace the need to physical contact if helps in situations were this is not easily possible. http://www.healthcomms.com


  2. admin says:

    Thank you for reading, Paul. We had a client whose daughter used technology to regularly check in on her mother with dementia. Because of the housing market, the client couldn’t sell her home, and the daughter lived out-of-state. They used technology for many years until our client could finally move to be closer to her daughter.

  3. Michele Rumpf says:

    Good article and helpful website. My 87yo mother lives 8 hours away from us. She chose to move back to FL from TN where we live. It’s tough. I can’t get down there often, and there have been problems. Will be visiting this site often for help and advice.

    • admin says:

      Michele, we are so glad the article has been useful. We hope you find our articles useful on your senior care journey. You are not alone!

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