Long-Distance Caregiving During COVID-19: Tips from Aging Experts

Guest Contributors: Maria Donohoe and Emily Winker

According to a recent AARP and National Alliance of Caregiving study, 11% of family caregivers reside an hour or more away from the person for which they provide care (2020), known as long-distance caregivers. Caregiving tasks often include assistance with daily living activities (e.g., bathing, dressing, preparing meals), assisting with financial matters, and addressing medical concerns. These caregiving tasks can be an additional challenge and stress for long-distance caregivers in ordinary times but are intensified during these uncertain times of COVID-19. 

What can long-distance caregivers do to manage the challenges and stress of providing care during COVID-19? Here are some tips in managing self-care, strengthening communication, and building a team.

Self Care

There’s a caregiver saying that is analogous to airline safety: Be sure to put on your oxygen mask before helping someone else. This adage simply encourages caregivers to take care of themselves in order to effectively provide care for another. In our previous blog, Caregiving During COVID-19: Helpful Tips on Staying Safe, Reducing Stress, and Finding Local Supports and Services, we provide a number of tips for family caregiver self-care. However, we want to emphasize these following tips to promote self-care:

  • Assure yourself that you are doing the best you can do
    • Positive self-talk can increase mood and confidence
    • We cannot always control what happens, only how we react to it
  • Seek out a support group
    • During COVID-19 there are many support groups that have gone virtual. Contact your Area Agency on Aging to learn of virtual support groups that might benefit you.
    • You can also call LifeLong Links at 866-468-7887 to find local services and supports
    • If you and the person for whom you provide care do not reside in Iowa, you can contact the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging’s Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116
  • Do yoga or meditate
    • Yoga can improve flexibility, balance, endurance, physical strength, reduce effects of arthritis (Richards & DiMartino, 2018; Spiewak, Stefen, Hicks, Little, & Pickett, 2017)
    • Mediation helps keep the mind sharp and clear, relieves stress, and improves overall well-being (Allen, Henderson, Mancini, & French, 2017; Chan, Deng, Wu, & Yan, 2019)
  • Listen to relaxing music
    • Music therapy reduces anxiety, stress, and healing (Umbrello, et al. 2019)
    • It can help manage effects of neurological disorders and dementia including socialization, emotional functioning, language, and learning (Keough, King, & Lemmerman, 2017)
    • Improves self-expression and communication (Hsu, 2016)
  • Exercise
    • Improves mood and mental health (Kramer & Colcombe, 2018)
    • Reduces risks of falls (Sherrington, et al., 2017)
    • Improves sleep (Gothe, et al., 2019)
Strengthen Communication
  • Send regular emails if the person receiving your care uses email
    • Send regular letters in the mail if the person receiving your care can get their mail
  • Send photos and pictures
  • Bring a favorite food when you are able to stop at the person’s home
    • You can leave the items at the front door and have a conversation at a 6-foot physical distance
Build a Support Team
  • Contact your Area Agency on Aging to build a support team that is effective for you
  • Work with your Area Agency on Aging to secure meals in the home
    • Grocery delivery
    • Home-delivered meals
  • Work with medical professionals to provide telehealth options to the person for which you care when possible
    • If this is unavailable, discuss safety measures for the person for which you provide care when entering and exiting the medical office
  • Get a 30-day supply of medications/prescriptions
  • Make a list of people you could call to check on the person for which you provide care

AARP and National Caregiver Alliance (2020). Executive summary: 2020 report caregiving in the U.S. Accessed at https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2020/05/executive-summary-caregiving-in-the-united-states.doi.10.26419-2Fppi.00103.003.pdf .

Allen, T.D., Henderson, T.G., Mancini, V.S., & French, K.A. (2017). Mindfulness and meditation practice as moderators of the relationship between age and subjective wellbeing among working adults. Mindfulness, 8, 1055-1063.

Chan, J.S.Y., Deng, K., Wu, J., & Yan, J.H. (2019). Effects of meditation and mind-body exercises on older adults’ cognitive performance: A meta-analysis. The Gerontologist, 59(6), e782-e790. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnz022.

Gothe, N.P., Ehlers, D.K., Slerno, E.A., Fanning, J., Kramer, A.F., & McAuley, E. (2019). Physical activity, sleep and quality of life in older adults: Influence of physical, mental and social well-being. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, https://doi.org/10.1080/15402002.2019.1690493.

Hsu, M.H. (2016). Caregivers’ dual role in music therapy to manage neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia. In J. Strange, H. Odell-Miller, & E. Richards (Eds.) Collaboration and assistance in music therapy practice: Roles, relationships, challenges.

Keough, L.A., King, B., & Lemmerman, T. (2017). Assessment-based small-group music therapy programming for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: A multi-year clinical project. Music Therapy Perspectives, 35(2), 182-189.

Kramer, A.F., & Colcombe, S. (2018). Fitness effects on the cognitive function of older adults: A meta-analytic study–revisited. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 213-217.

Richards, T.A., & DiMartino, A. (2018). Yoga: Addressing physical functioning and well-being in older adults. In T.G. Plante (Ed.) Healing with spiritual practices: Proven techniques for disorders from addictions and anxiety to cancer and chronic pain (pp. 86-97).

Spiewak, C., Steffen, S., Hicks, B., Little, K., Pickett, K. (2017). A systematic review of the outcomes of therapeutic yoga with older adults. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(4_Supplement_1):7111505134. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2017.71S1-PO5035.

Sherrington, C., Michaleff, Z.A., Fairhall, N., Paul, S.S., Tiedemann, A., Whitney, J., Cumming, R.G., Herbert, R.D., Close, J.C.T., & Lord, S.R. (2017). Exercise to prevent falls in older adults: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51, 1749-1757.

Umbrello, M., Sorrenti, T., Mistraletti, G., Formenti, P., Chiumello, D., & Terzoni, S.. (2019). Music therapy reduces stress and anxiety in crticially ill patients: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Minerva Anestesiol, 85(8), 886-898. https://doi.org/10.23736/s0375-9393.19.13526-2.

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