Carers' Guide to Caring from Afar

Many unpaid carers do not live with the person they care for. And the distance can bring very specific challenges.

 

Whether our cared-for is 5 miles or 200 miles away, not being physically present, means we often take on a strong coordination role.

 

Perhaps managing many phone calls with our cared-for and the agencies that support them. There is also the challenge of perhaps ‘sharing the care’ amongst family members, when we all have different lives and live different distances away.

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Am I a Carer?

 

As a distance carer, we may take a little while to associate with the term ‘carer’. 

 

  • “I’m only answering phone calls when they’re a bit confused.”

  • “I’m only doing their online food shopping and making sure they remember to pay their bills.”

  • “I’m only phoning each day to remind her to take her medication.”

 

 

Do any of these sound familiar to you? As Bridget says in her story, healing and recovery after a caring crisis, distance caring can “start small and creep up on you”.

 

The government describes a carer as:

 

“A carer is someone who helps another person, usually a relative or friend, in their day-to-day life”

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As an idea, the NHS says you're a carer if you're doing any of the following on a regular basis for someone that is ill, elderly or disabled:

Practical support, including:

  • washing, dressing or taking medicines

  • getting out and about

  • travelling to doctors' appointments

  • shopping, and cleaning

  • organising finances and paying bills

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Emotional support, including:

  • sitting with someone to keep them company

  • watching over someone if they can't be left alone

  • fielding telephone calls to manage someone's anxiety

 

In this context, it’s important to consider that while we may not be physically there taking someone to the doctors (for example), we may be the person arranging for a neighbour or hospital ambulance to pick them up - it still counts.

 

Ask ourselves - could they cope without our regular support?

 
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1. Get a paid care agency to support you

This will at least take the worry out of perhaps personal care or medication management. Freeing us up emotionally and practically.

 

It can feel very time-consuming getting a good care agency in place, and carers tell us that we may have to persist to find one that works for our own situation.

 

“since having help from an agency with my father-in-law’s medication and personal care, I’ve found that more of the fun is back in our relationship”


We have more information on getting started with help and support in our caring role, in our blog.

 

2. Ask for help

It’s OK to ask for help - in fact it’s good. The sooner the better. Talking with our GP or local carers’ centre is a great starting point. You can request a Carers’ Assessment, which could lead to more support for you, if you wish to retain your caring role. Remember, we have the choice to say we don’t want to be the carer. We’re allowed to say how much we can handle. This is protected by law.

 

We might feel really uncomfortable involving third parties. Sometimes because of expectations we put on ourselves, perceptions of judgement or perhaps emotional pressure from the person we’re caring for.

 

“I found the confidence after a chat with the Mobilise carer support team

Jacqui gave me the courage to get started and supported me.”

 

3. Make friends with neighbours

Introducing ourselves to the neighbours, sharing phone numbers and filling them in on the situation can really help. If we’re lucky, neighbours will ‘keep an eye out’ for us, and be someone who can immediately pop round in an emergency.

 

“Remember to say thanks and make them feel valued. I send Christmas cards and gifts and the odd bunch of flowers”

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Little things like ‘putting the bins out’ or ‘mowing the lawn’ could save us an hours trip! Some neighbours may have teenagers looking for pocket money jobs or volunteering opportunities.

 

4. Get Lasting Power of Attorney

A common misconception is that being ‘next of kin’ will mean we get to manage finances and make health and welfare decisions for our cared-for, if they lose mental capacity. This is not so. We need something called a Lasting Power of Attorney or Powers of Attorney in Scotland.

There are two types of Lasting Power of Attorney. The Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney only comes into effect once mental capacity is lost. The Property and Finance Lasting Power of Attorney can be active before mental capacity is lost - if our cared-for chooses. Meaning we can arrange for things like bills to be sent to us for managing.

 

5. Do a home assessment

It’s well worth a day and night of trouble shooting with our cared-for in their home. Watching them in their home environment, we can easily start to notice what they’re having difficulty with and together we can start to come up with solutions.

Some of the things we might want to look out for include:

  • Do they struggle to tell the time or take their medication?

  • Do they wander at night? Can they get to the bathroom if they need to?

  • Can they get in and out of their chair or bed easily?

  • Can they manage the locks on the doors and windows? 

  • Are there batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors?

  • How do they cope in the bathroom and getting to the toilet?

  • Are there any trip hazards around the house, such as rugs or wires?

There are some simple solutions to some of these issues, from dated medication containers to frames and handrails. AgeUK have some great ideas for making homes safer.

Our findings can also be helpful for informing a Care Needs Assessment for our cared-for.

 

6. Set up a WhatsApp group

If there are a few of us providing the care, then a WhatsApp group is a great way of opening up a discussion to talk about who can help with what.

 

For both android and iPhone users, it makes staying in touch much easier, with less repetition and allows everyone to be kept in the loop.

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7. Define roles

Some carers shared that it really helped to share out the roles, so everyone knew what they were doing and was responsible for their task or tasks. 

 

“My brother does all the GP appointments, my other brother and I alternate the daily phone calls to check in and I manage the hospital appointments. My niece goes in on Sundays and my aunt cooks meals for my Mum and visits on Mondays and Thursdays. It’s working for now and no one feels like

it’s all on their shoulders.”

 

Routines may be helpful too, along with knowing when everyone is on holiday or how we’re each coping with other things.

 

8. Join their local town or village Facebook group

A great way to get recommendations for cleaners, gardeners, or a handyperson. But also a way to be aware of local scams, crime, helpful organisations and charities.

Routines may be helpful too, along with knowing when everyone is on holiday or how we’re each coping with other things.

 

9. Get meals in

Knowing that the person we care for has had a decent meal can be a big relief. If we’re unable to get meals to them and they’re unlikely to cook themselves, then there are plenty of firms that deliver prepared meals - or we can simply order ready meals on their weekly shop.

Some carers in our community have mentioned the Parsley Box, which provides cupboard stored ready meals, meaning that they don’t need fridge or freezer space. In fact the company was set up by a carer who struggled to find suitable ready meals for her mother-in-law who was living on her own.

 

10. Make ourselves known with their GP

Making ourselves known to professionals means we can have a conversation with them directly about our cared-for. We will need our cared-for’s permission of course, unless we have an active Health and Welfare Lasting Power or Attorney.

 

11. Use technology to support our cared-for

From using technology to help with jobs around the home, to staying in touch or being notified in an emergency. There are many ways technology is helping carers to care from afar.

A. Use technology to support our cared-for

From setting up Alexa to dim the lights or shut the blinds to dementia friendly electronic pill boxes. There is a growing amount of supportive smart technology out there.

The Which guide for technology to keep you safe is a great starting point for seeing what might be helpful.

 

B. Using monitoring technology to keep our cared-for safe

Monitoring technology is available for certain conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, recurring urinary tract infections, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Telecare and Telehealth can support our cared-for to monitor their condition at home, reducing regular GP visits. 

 

They also include alarms to notify the nominated carer if there is a fall, an intruder or simply that our cared-for feel unwell and can activate the alarm themselves.

 

AgeUK has lots more information on Telecare and Telehealth. A good starting point is to talk to our cared-for’s GP or to request a Care Needs Assessment for our cared-for - via adult social services.

 

There can be a small charge for this technology.

 

Of course as well as monitoring health, it may be helpful to use monitoring technology to keep the people we care for safe in other ways - with their consent. Some carers tell us that Ring doorbells allow them to see who is calling at the front door for example.

 

C. Using technology to stay in touch with our cared-for

Of course there is the good old fashioned telephone, but there are also heaps of new ways to stay in touch. Introducing fun and more connection opportunities for us all.

Of course this may start with getting our cared-for ‘online’. In which case our Digital Skills for Carers may be just what you need.

 

AgeUK have a list of phones that may support people with poorer eyesight or low dexterity, including phones with larger buttons or bigger screens. 

They also have a helpful guide to getting started with video calling.

 

12. Look after ourselves

Caring can take its toll on our mental and physical health. We may not notice at first, and often we’re running on adrenaline when we first get started, but overtime this can become problematic.

It’s helpful to be aware of the signs of carer burnout to look out for, and how we might heal if we have reached a caring crisis.

It can also be helpful to have ways to look after ourselves - even if we feel we have no time.

 

13. Connect with other carers

Chatting with carers in similar situations can really help. Our local carers’ centres will know what’s going on locally and how to hook up with others.

 

Connecting with other carers can be a great source of emotional support and practical advice. Our Facebook community is full of unpaid carers sharing and supporting each other. And much of the advice in this guide is directly from them. 

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And if we have a specific challenge or are feeling overwhelmed, then a chat with our carer support team can really help. They’re all carers themselves and offer a listening, non judgemental ear. They can really help us to unpick a problem and move things forwards. Our calls are free and available seven days a week.

 

Find out more and book your call.

Ask us anything

What would you add? Please help us to continue to grow this resource by sharing your own experience and advice. You can do this by simply emailing us.