Introduce yourself to members of your loved one’s medical team and let them know you’ll play a part in their care. Develop a good understanding of their RA and keep in touch with healthcare professionals. Remember to ask whether the doctor needs a signed medical release form to discuss medical issues with you.
By learning all you can about RA, you won’t only gain a better understanding of what your loved one—and the geographically closer, primary caregiver—are going through; you’ll also find it easier to talk with healthcare professionals. Joining a caregiver’s support group at your local hospital or in your hometown can help you learn about the disease and answer some of your questions.
Think about the kind of help you can offer from afar. You can pay bills online, deal with insurance company issues, assist in updating friends and family, research doctors and treatment options…the list goes on. Think outside the box, and you’ll see that even from a distance you can help.
Be proactive! Ask the primary caregiver what tasks you could do that would help the most. And be sure to ask your loved one whether you can do anything special—either remotely or during your next visit.
See your loved one whenever you can, as long as you’ve confirmed the best times to visit. Consider booking a trip during a holiday weekend or while the primary caregiver is on vacation, when you can use the time to take over the primary caregiver’s responsibilities. Ask that person and your loved one what needs to be done while you’re in town. For example, does your mother or sister need a new pair of shoes, or does she want to visit a friend? Does your loved one have any doctors to visit?
If you’re actually in town, don’t spend your whole visit with your loved one doing errands and chores. Rent a movie or go out for dinner. Spend quality time doing activities together that you enjoy.
Emotionally support both your loved one and the primary caregiver by letting them vent to you. Never underestimate the importance of simply being available to listen, whether it is over the phone, through e-mail, on Skype or in a text message.
Keep in touch with your mother's or sister's neighbors, friends and other relatives to gauge their opinion of how your loved one is doing. Schedule regular calls or online chats with the primary caregiver to get a firsthand take on the situation.
Build an emergency fund for unexpected flights, rental cars, gas, unpaid time off from work and other expenses. Save a few vacation or personal days for a last-minute trip to see your loved one. By putting money aside and knowing who will handle your own affairs at home—kids, mail, pets and so on—while you’re away, you can feel better prepared for spontaneous visits.