When family and friends are at a distance, staying connected can be a challenge. When an illness strikes, such as cancer, we wonder what we can do from so far away to help. The answer is really simple - lots!

Long-distance caregiving can take many forms. More than seven million adults are providing care to someone who lives an hour or more away and men now represent more than 40 percent of the caregivers. Caring for a person who lives at a distance has unique hurdles and challenges. Not being physically present may magnify the concerns and complicate the logistics. According to the National Institute on Aging, caregiving is also a long-term task and what may start as an occasional social phone call can turn into a regular call managing day-to-day issues and concerns.

Providing care over the miles can be manageable and satisfying. There are many hints that can help the long-distance caregiver be more effective, no matter where they live.

- Know what you need to know. Seasoned caregivers recommend learning as much as you can about the illness and treatment. This will help you understand what is going on, let you anticipate the path of the illness, prevent crises and help in managing the disease.

- Get organized. Gather all the information you can about the medical, financial and legal issues for the person. Find a list of the resources and services in the area. The library, senior centers or Area Agencies on Aging can help. Are there advanced directives, medical powers of attorney, etc.? Put together a booklet that includes all the needed information about health care, social services, financial and legal issues and pertinent contact information. Have copies for other caregivers.

- Introduce yourself. Connect with everyone involved, such as healthcare providers, neighbors and local friends. Share contact information so they can reach you and let them know what you will be doing. Religious organizations and civic or social clubs can also be a great source of support and as potential volunteers when needed.

- Prepare for unexpected travel. This can include letting your employer know about your caregiving role, setting aside vacation or sick days and researching travel options. Also consider who will take care of your home, family and pets while you are away.

- Make the most of your visit(s). Physically meet with friends and neighbors. Observe the person and their living conditions. Is there food in the refrigerator? Is the house clean? Is the person well-groomed and bathed? Look for hazards in the house such as loose rugs, poor lighting and clutter. Make improvements when possible. Try to spend some time talking to the person with cancer about their feelings regarding the care they are receiving. Schedule a break for the primary caregiver while you are visiting. Also, be sure to spend some quality time with the person. Do something you enjoy doing together.

While long distance caregiving can be challenging, there are many resources available to help. The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is happy to help direct local caregivers to these resources. Visit our website at www.cancernepa.org or call us at 1-800-424-6724 for more information.

The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services and survivorship, 100 percent of Cancer Institute resources are invested in this region. For more information about the cancer institute, visit www.cancernepa.org or call (800) 424-6724.