How Tech makes Long Distance Caregiving Easier

Caregiving 2.0:
How Technology Makes Long Distance Caregiving Easier

By Michelle Seitzer

Stethoscope on a Computer KeyboardToday’s guest post is by Melody Wilding, a licensed medical social worker (LMSW) and Community Manager for eCaring.com.

It’s 11 a.m. Two meetings down: what’s next? Maybe check emails or tackle the pile of papers growing on your desk?

Just as you’re hitting a stride, the phone rings. It’s Mom … and something is wrong. She fell this morning.

“Nothing serious,” she says, but the words shake you to your core. You’re frustrated, scared, and frantic inside. But there you are: stuck more than five hours away.

These types of occurrences are a daily reality for millions of long-distance caregivers across the United States.

The National Institute on Aging estimates that over 7 million Americans are long-distance caregivers. As America’s aging population surges, the trend is likely to continue. According to a 2004 study by MetLife in association with the National Alliance for Caregiving, an average of 450 miles separates caregivers and their loved ones.

Caregiving from afar carries a unique set of challenges. Monitoring situations and making decisions from a remote location may seem like a constant uphill battle.

Do you have a strategy for maintaining your loved one’s health and comfort, even from afar? It’s a hard topic to broach, but you can take proactive steps and consider new technologies to help your loved one age well, while bringing you peace of mind.

Technology can make long-distance caregiving a little bit easier, helping “share the care” between everyone involved. Telehealth supports long-distance care by helping families and healthcare providers monitor what goes on between doctor’s visits.

Technologies like wireless sensors, social networking, and mobile devices are becoming the new standard in caregiving. The benefits of these technologies are far-reaching and have major implications for improving safety and quality of life for seniors.

When you’re an elder caregiver, you’re managing information between a dizzying numbers of parties. But the process doesn’t have to be painful. Here, we offer several ways technology is making long distance caregiving easier:

  • Share information with providers — The medical record has reached the modern era! Personal Health Records (PHRs) or Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are easy-to-use tools for managing your loved one’s health. A PHR is an electronic file that contains health-related information such as a senior’s medical conditions, allergies, medications, and doctor or hospital visits. These details are conveniently stored in one place, and can be shared with healthcare providers (doctor, hospital, insurance company) just like a paper medical chart. Since you control who can view and access information in a PHR, it empowers seniors and caregivers alike to take greater command in the care they receive. As an elder caregiver, knowing your loved one’s health history and tracking medications, chronic conditions, and various tests is vital in a complicated healthcare system. An electronic health record can be accessed from almost anywhere via the web, which is especially helpful for remote caregivers or those who travel.
  • Stay involved and informed, on demand — If you’re caregiving from a distance you might feel “out of the loop.” Has Dad eaten? Is Mom sleeping? As many of us know, caregiving never ends. It may be 2 am, but you’re concerned about how he or she is doing. Home health monitoring can help you track any and all information associated withhome care and deliver real-time information about care and conditions going on in the home, any hour of the day. Web-based care management enables any family member to monitor, 24/7, what is going on at home from either their computer or phone in real-time, anywhere in the world. Make it a family affair: with new tech, you can share information with siblings or other relatives involved in care, making it easier to manage responsibilities. Streamlining communication makes the job easier, meaning more time for all-important caregiver self-care!
  • Take in the big picture of elder care — The best new technologies create a dashboard experience for caregivers. At a glance, caregivers can see behaviors and trends such as sleep patterns, vital readings, and even the person’s current mental state. This provides a comprehensive picture of care, helping families treat conditions fully rather than in a fragmented manner over time. Since physical and mental health are so closely linked, technology enables caregivers to see how a chronic condition like diabetes may be affecting a person’s happiness. Additionally, caregivers can spot red flags. If something is amiss – such as if Mom is not getting out of bed or Dad is missing his meds – you have an opportunity to check in, nipping a potentially serious problem in the bud.

Are you a long distance caregiver? What technologies have you used to make your journey easier?

About the Author

Melody Wilding, LMSW is a specialist in aging and a licensed geriatric social worker. Melody is Director of Outreach at eCaring.com, which is charged with improving home health care through the power of real-time care information. Melody has worked with older adults clinically in community-based, senior living, and psychiatric settings; developed aging-competency trainings for healthcare workers, worked on advocacy campaigns to support Medicaidhome care services, and is a member of the Committee on Leadership In Aging. An active runner, she is currently racing to END ALZ and raise awareness on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association.  She can be reached at:melody@ecaring.com.