Preparing For Long-Distance Emergencies

Caring for a loved one who lives far away brings with it its own unique set of challenges—especially in emergency situations.

Crisis: Out Of Nowhere

When you call, your loved one assures you that all is well, but can you be certain that he or she is aware of small changes in his or her health, behavior, or capabilities? If distance precludes frequent visits, you may not be aware of diminishing faculties or abilities that could result in injury. If that’s the case, you could be caught off guard when an accident occurs.

If an emergency room visit occurs in your absence and your loved one is cleared for discharge before you can get there, the hospital discharge planner can arrange for any immediate care needs—cooking, dressing, bandage-changing, and so on—to be met by a home health aide. Some community organizations also offer emergency care for just such circumstances. And some companies provide employees with services or benefits that can help bridge the gap between an emergency and your arrival.

Another interim option is respite care, which can be arranged through your loved one’s local Area Agency on Aging or other community services. Respite care initially was created to provide primary caregivers a break from caregiving duties, like meal preparation, dressing, grooming, and light housekeeping. However, respite care can also assist with short-term care needs until you work out a more permanent solution.

Set Up An Emergency Plan

If your loved does have an accident or other emergency situation, you’ll want to get there as soon as possible, not only to offer reassurance but also to make any necessary decisions regarding your loved one’s care. Do you have a spouse or someone who can fill in for you at home with children or pets? Do you need to make flight reservations or other travel arrangements? How long will it take you to pack?

If you have an emergency plan in place, you will have more time to make clear-headed decisions regarding arrangements at work or at home, as well as any decisions regarding your loved one. That means less stress, less wasted time, and fewer mistakes.

  • Develop a support system of friends, neighbors, and family members who might step in for you, and clearly define everyone’s role in your emergency plan.
  • Make a list of all names and numbers of your support system members.
  • Set up a phone tree to keep the entire emergency support system informed.
  • Make sure that all members of your caregiving support system have a phone number where you can be reached during a crisis.
  • Keep a bag packed with toiletries and appropriate clothing.
  • If you know that your trip will require air travel, make sure you have the name and number of a reliable travel agent who can make the necessary arrangements quickly.

Thinking About Long-Distance Caregiving

Even during non-emergency situations, caregiving responsibilities are complicated by distance. Not only is it more difficult to fulfill your loved one’s needs from afar, it’s also more difficult to assess what those needs may be. In such situations, connecting with the right people and services is essential to ensuring the best care and comfort for your loved one. But even though much of the detail work can be handled by phone or mail, you’ll need to be prepared to travel on short notice, which often means adjusting your entire family’s routine.

Long-distance caregiving also brings with it its own set of emotional stresses. You may feel guilty because you can’t be present to take care of your loved one’s immediate needs, or you may feel overwhelmed by the complexities of organizing two separate households. In order to sustain long-distance care over a period of time, you need to be sensitive to you own needs, as well as you loved one’s. There are resources to help the caregiver, too.

Is Long-Distance Caregiving For You?

Although you may have no choice, think carefully and plan fully before entering a long-distance caregiving situation. The complexity of long-distance caregiving can result in a great deal of stress. Not everyone’s situation or emotional makeup can handle these out-of-the-ordinary pressures over a long term.

First, Ask Yourself:

  • Can you, or your job, tolerate travel on short notice?
  • Can other family members help?
  • Can you take care of yourself and your family as well?


  • You may be required to travel on short notice, and the distance is a factor as well: A three-hour drive can be less stressful and require less planning than even a short flight with a layover.
  • If your family includes small children or pets, they must be cared for in your absence. Can you create a support system with friends and relatives to help?
  • While employers are becoming increasingly aware of the caregiving challenges facing their employees, you still must consider your workload and any obligations or deadlines. Can you count on co-workers to be accommodating? Can you take work with you when you travel? At the very least, you’ll have to rearrange your calendar and your commitments.
  • Long-distance caregivers often face difficult financial burdens. Phone bills can run extremely high; necessary travel can eat up vacation budgets; and chances are you’ll have to pay someone to provide your loved one with the care and assistance that you can’t be there to give.
  • Can you handle the emotional stress? Most caregivers experience feelings of guilt for not being as available to their loved ones as they feel they should be. The long distance caregiver can also experience feelings of helplessness from not being physically able to provide care and comfort.

As you prepare a care plan for an aging or infirm loved one, think about the difficulties involved in long-distance caregiving. Your loved one may not want to move from his or her home, but you have to consider what’s best for everyone involved—including yourself.

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