Flexibility is key. The patient’s needs will ebb and flow throughout the continuum of care, and thus the long-distance caregiver needs to practice flexibility as well. There may be times when the patient is feeling well and wants to maintain more independence, while at other times, may require a more hands-on approach. In some cases, distance can be protective. Reminding caregivers of the opportunity for self-care, and independence that can be achieved while being farther away from the patient can help them to reframe and feel more equipped for the caregiver role.
Enlist multiple avenues for support. Many long-distance caregivers report that having two different networks of support—a home team and an away team—is most helpful. This ensures that the caregiver has a strong support system both when they are with the patient and when they are not. Long-distance caregiving takes a lot of time and energy, so caregivers need support that is flexible, too. An ever-available online support group may be more helpful than a more structured weekly commitment. CancerCare and other similar organizations offer caregiver-specific online support groups that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Prescribe a high dose of self-care. Long distance caregivers are often balancing responsibilities of their own including family and career, as well as the unique challenge of caregiving from afar, and often overlook their own needs. Self-care is necessary in helping them cope with all of these different and complex parts of their lives. Long-distance caregivers may see any free moment as an opportunity to visit with the patient or get into caregiver mode. However, they may in fact benefit more from first checking in with themselves about how to spend moments of respite.
Prepare for visits. Encourage the long-distance caregiver to consider what physical changes might have occurred in the patient since their last visit (ie, hair loss, weight changes, mobility) to help create appropriate expectations and anticipate triggers for sadness and worry.
Ultimately, in order to best support long-distance caregivers, it is important to acknowledge them as an integral part of a patient’s care. Listening to the needs of this population and helping them to gain access to valuable resources and information goes a long way in improving outcomes for both the caregiver and patient.