Long-Distance Caregiving: Tips for the Check-In Call

distanceYou live in New York City; your mom lives in Florida. You talk regularly. But, after each phone conversation, you wonder: How do I really know that all is okay?

Sometimes, caring conversations can be about the big issues (money, moving, a change in care needs) and sometimes it’s about the little things, like how the day goes for your caree who lives a distance away. Caring conversations about the little things can help you understand when the bigger concerns (like when they need more help) need addressing.

During your conversations, ask questions to get a better understanding of your caree’s day. It’s not about peppering your caree with questions; it’s about inserting good questions during your comfortable conversations.

Questions like these can help you gauge how well your caree manages:

  1. What’s for dinner tonight? (So you know she’s eating okay.)
  2. Where did you go yesterday? (So you know she’s getting out of the house.)
  3. How do you organize your schedule so you take your medications on time? (So you know she’s taking her medications on time.)
  4. Who will you see today? (So you know she’s socializing and engaging with others.)
  5. What’s the best part of your day? (So you know she has meaning in her day.)
  6. What’s new in the neighborhood? (So you know she’s aware and involved of her surroundings.)
  7. Who’s called this week? (So you have an idea of who regularly contacts her.)
  8. What can I do for you? (Asking might free your caree up to telling.)
  9. What have you been watching on TV? (Another way to understand how she spends her day.)
  10. What’s the gossip you’re hearing lately? (Again, a way to understand how well she’s engaged with others. You also will understand how her peers are doing and what captures her attention.)

Specific questions help you better understand your caree’s situation. A general question, like “How are you feeling?” might be met with a general answer, “I’m doing fine,” which really doesn’t tell you much. Questions about what your caree eats and how often she goes grocery shopping help you understand how well she’s managing. And, when she begins to struggle (“I haven’t been able to get out shopping this week”) you can ask more questions to better understand the situation. Perhaps she didn’t need groceries this week. Perhaps the trips to the grocery stores are beginning to wear her out.

When you understand what’s going well, you can keep those things going well. When something starts to slip, you can begin to discuss alternatives. For instance, if the grocery shopping seems to be getting too hard, you can say, “Grocery shopping can be taxing. Let’s look at options for having your groceries delivered.” (We’ll talk about a caree’s resistance to these suggestions in a future blog post.)

I now live with my parents. A few years ago, though, I lived close to my parents, except when we had snow in Chicago. The few miles seemed like two hundred miles. When I knew the forecast called for snow, I called my parents the day before the expected snowfall and asked, “What’s our game plan for the snow?”

A game plan meant I could plan my day to be available to shovel and my dad knew he could count on me to lend a hand. The game plan evolved to include a solution created by my dad: When the snow fall measured more than two inches, my dad would use a local handyman to plow his long driveway. These plans made the winter much easier for all of us. And, it all started with a phone call.

What questions do you ask to understand how your caree is doing? Please share your thoughts in our comments section, below.

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Avatar of Denise

About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched CareGiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

5 thoughts on “Long-Distance Caregiving: Tips for the Check-In Call

  1. Avatar of RichardRichard

    Denise, I like the list of questions you posted. With the new ventures into the iPhones FaceTime, Skype. Google Hangouts and the device you posted about recently as well as many other being able to see your loved one on the screen allows you to see the complexion (health), hair (grooming habits), house appearance, etc. There has been a few times when I would have liked to see my mom on a screen when I’ve talked to her because something just didn’t seem right. Thank you for the questions list I will be adding it to my mom file on my phone so I have them when I need them.

    - Richard

    Reply
    • Avatar of DeniseDenise Post author

      You’re welcome. :) I think you’ve got a great point about technology. With more and more technology that’s easy to use, we’ll be able to connect in a much more meaningful way without any effort.

      Reply
  2. Avatar of JoJo

    @Denise,

    One major caution regarding this practice, if the loved you you are checking in on is dealing with any dementia or mental illness, your questions become useless. You or someone you trust will have to physically check-in on them.

    For a long time I lived across country from my parents. When I checked in by phone with my parents I would routinely ask them questions such as you’ve listed above and always received encouraging answers and strong reassurances that everything was alright.

    The entire time their home and lives were rapidly unraveling… bills were unpaid, garbage was collecting in their home, utilities had been shut off… it was only when I physically visited that I saw the reality of how they were living. It wasn’t that they lied to me, they were unable to comprehend their status and communicate their need. They really believed they were fine, but they weren’t.

    Reply
    • Avatar of DeniseDenise Post author

      @Jo You are so right–thank you for this important caution. Regular visits are a must.

      I feel for you during that visit when you saw the reality of the situation. It must have been just heart-breaking.

      Reply
  3. Avatar of PegiPegi

    Denise, so many of your questions and suggestions were the consistancy of my conversation with my mother thoughout the years. It helped us stay connected to the point that when her health did start to fail she would give me straight answers. If it was anything I was concerned about I would make sure to check back with one of my sisters (who lived in the area) to make sure they were also aware of the issue. Such good advice not only for Long Distance Caregiving, but for any one with aging or chronically ill parents. Those simple questions bridge the gap of miles and may just be your saving grace as time goes by. Thank you.

    Reply

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