Susan Williams is one year younger than her brother, Jason Thompson, and the two, for most of their lives, have been inseparable. Susan, now in her 50s, remembers how, when she and Jason were just six years old, they made a pact to never let anything separate them, and to always care for each other.

Jason, however, has Alzheimer’s disease and doesn’t remember their pact or where he is, even on his best days. Even though Susan left their hometown of Perth in her 20s to pursue her career on the opposite side of the country, she’s still managed to keep the latter part of their promise – caring for her brother.

From a distance

Many of us find ourselves geographically separated from our loved ones, either through work or married life, and we’re not always able to provide the hands-on care we would like to give. And yet, while long distances can complicate the caregiving process, there are ways to bridge the divide, especially in this age of modern technology.

Susan has embraced the available technologies and often uses Skype video calling to communicate with Jason’s wife, who also happens to be his direct caregiver. But even where you don’t have a close relative directly caring for the person with Alzheimer’s disease, the steps remain the same.

Guide for effective long-distance caregiving:

    • Keep yourself in the know in terms of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and methods of care.

    • Establish set times to communicate with the direct caregiver.

    • Show interest in the caregiver and be a good listener.

    • Check the caregiver’s stress levels and how they’re coping.

    • Ensure the direct caregiver makes time for themselves.

    • Ensure that all bills are paid and that there’s enough food and other comforts.

    • Trade places for a weekend every few months to be closer to your loved one.

    • Get medical reports in order to have a better understanding of your loved one’s condition.

    • Speak directly to the person with Alzheimer’s disease via Skype or on the phone. It’s important for the patient to stay in touch with their loved ones – people they know, trust and love.

    • When chatting to the primary caregiver, be careful not to talk over your loved one’s head as if they’re not there.

    • Even if the patient is incoherent, speak about good memories during the call.

    • Make a fuss over special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

    • Respect and comply with your loved one’s daily routine to avoid agitation or confusion.

    • Try to keep activities and calls to less than 90 minutes.

    • Keep talking, even if the person doesn’t communicate.

    • Avoid correcting the person if he or she makes a mistake, or can’t remember something. Instead, try to listen to what the person is trying to express.

    • Be patient and remember to always treat a person with Alzheimer’s with love and respect. Be a good listener and pay attention to the person’s concerns.

    • When you’re there, make the most of the visit.

    • Join a caregiver’s support group to maintain your own mental wellness.

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