Expat Essentials

Kimberly Hanneman: How do expat caregivers provide for loved ones from afar?

Strengthened with empathy and knowledge, expat caregivers can navigate diverse caregiving responsibilities. The role of a long-distance caregiver first honors loved ones’ dignity of their wishes while nurturing our understanding of functional tasks, from developing care plans to managing home safety, that can be coordinated from afar.

When our loved ones who need caregiving live far away from us, it seems difficult to be an effective caregiver. Despite distance and time zones, we can have a purposeful role that helps in the care of our loved ones. As defined by the National Institute on Aging, if you live an hour or more away from your person who needs care, you are a long-distance caregiver.

“If you live an hour or more away from your person who needs care, you are a long-distance caregiver. This kind of care can take many forms.”

National Institute on Aging

Identifying the Care Needs

Our aging loved ones may need us to focus on their health, emotional, and safety circumstances and define their support network. Start with the NIA Caregiver’s Handbook’s free download. By reviewing caregiving resources, we can better understand the challenges our aging loved ones may be experiencing. We can find a role and draw ourselves closer to our loved ones.

Painful Stuff

The best approach is to give our aging loved ones the treatment we wish for our future old selves. No one ages to perfection. Respect and compassion overrule culturally dismissive ageism that strips dignity from the human experience.

Our aging family members need us to be well-informed about aging, thoughtful about individual needs, and steady. Our families of origin gave us an identity. We have memories and feelings about our early life with stories we tell ourselves.

Contributing to the caregiving of aging loved ones can help us better understand ourselves. If you had a difficult childhood, Roberta Satow’s book Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even If They Didn’t Take Care of You presents choices and decision modeling.

Long-distance Caregiver’s Checklists

As a long-distance caregiver, you have avenues for involvement. The National Institute on Aging offers worksheets for:

1) coordinating caregiver responsibilities;

2) home safety;

3) hiring a care provider;

4) managing medications; and

5) storing important documents. 

Planning for Emergencies 

Clarify with aging parents and others within the support network: Who is the first contact in an emergency? Who has the medical and legal authority to follow through on aging parents’ wishes? Is the GP doctor authorized to discuss medical records with someone in the support network? Is there a weather emergency kit in the home?

Safety First

Most elderly falls happen on stairs and in bathrooms. The kitchen has hazards for vulnerable people. Safety first includes home safety modification and situational alerts.

Financial and Legal 

For some families, money is a difficult topic to discuss. Several caregiver resources for U.S. residents indicate attorneys can facilitate family discussions on navigating financial and legal affairs. 


A person with forgetfulness loses their keys. A person with dementia forgets how to use keys.

Early dementia presents as depression as people withdraw, lose interest, and have memory issues. If you suspect a loved one is experiencing memory loss, consult their GP doctor’s office to learn how they approach memory impairment screening. GPs use the  MMSE (Mini-Mental State Examination) measures cognitive impairment. The Alzheimer’s Association and the Roslyn Carter Institute for Caregivers offer resources on how to care for loved ones with dementia. 

Worthy of Attention

If your aging parent is the primary caregiver for a person experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s, know the sobering statistic that 40 percent of elderly caregivers who live and care for their loved one with dementia die first. Our guilt, unresolved family conflicts, and expectation comparisons do not support the needs of aging parents. Communication is the only way through it. Primarily, respect the primary caregiver’s choices. Distinguish between practical and ideal circumstances and make priorities clear.

The First Step

The first step is to listen to learn if help is needed and prioritize what would be welcomed at this time. 


Read more about caring for elderly parents here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Kimberly here.

Kimberly Hanneman
Author | Website | + posts

Kimberly Hanneman is a writer who travels. She lives near Utrecht in a 115-year-old Dutch cottage she is renovating. In 2019 with her family, Kimberly relocated to the Netherlands from the USA. They enjoy cycling through the Netherlands and traveling outside the country to the mountains to hike. Kimberly worked for a decade in financial communications and investor relations before becoming a National Certified Counselor in career counseling at a Virginia university supporting undergraduates and graduate students by debunking the shallow find your passion advice. She was raised in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and returns each summer.

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