Long-distance caregiving creates a unique set of challenges for both the caregiver and his or her loved one. “Worry is the dominate emotion I felt as a long-distance caregiver,” noted one family caregiver in the book “Strength for the Moment: Inspiration for Caregivers.”
When something happens or changes unexpectedly, the mileage doesn’t matter; you just want to be there as soon as they need you, and it can be devastating not to be.
Of the 34 million Americans who care for older family members, roughly 15 percent are long-distance caregivers, according to HealthinAging.org.
"It is not uncommon for family members who are family caregivers to live in different cities or states, making travel time and expense a major issue," noted Lakelyn Hogan, Ph.D., Home Instead gerontologist and caregiver advocate. "Providing assistance to an aging relative can become a full-time job for many, so the addition of travel can compound the stress and exhaustion."
Guilt could be a prevalent emotion as well. You may feel guilty when you’re not with a loved one, and guilty when you are there and you’re neglecting your life at home. Often times caregivers experience anger, which is a normal part of the caregiving. Use these tips to help cope with caregiver anger.
If moving closer to an older loved one or having that senior move closer to you is not an option, the following tips may make your long-distance caregiving easier
How to Make Long-Distance Caregiving Easier
Get to Know Your Loved One’s Neighbors
Identify one or two trustworthy neighbors that can look in on your elderly relative. Call them once a week for an update.
Meet the Local Mail Carrier
If he sees that the mail has not been brought in, he can alert you or a neighbor. Some post offices have special programs set up to handle this type of "elder watch." Call your local post office to see if the program is available.
Get to Know Your Loved One’s Social Circle
Learn more about the friends your one spends time with. They can be eyes and ears when you aren't around. Consider friends from various areas like church, volunteer opportunities, past colleagues, local businesses.
Have a “Things to Know” List
Create a list of your loved one’s medical issues and medications, doctor's names with contact information, and financial or legal professionals who can help you access legal documents in an emergency.
Research Local Support Services
Find local resources at USAging.org. Investigate senior services in the area, such as transportation, community or adult day centers and professional care. Other helpful organizations:
- Alzheimer’s Association – 24/7 Helpline: 1.800.272.3900
- Caregiver Action Network – 24/7 Caregiver Help Desk: 1.855.227.3640
Hire a Professional to Help
Set up caregiving services for daily or occasional assistance for everyday tasks, such as grocery shopping, medication reminders, running errands, meal preparation, etc. One of the most important roles of a professional caregiver is to provide companionship – a regular visitor who can monitor any issues that may be cropping up (health, safety, etc.). This person is the "eyes and ears" for the family who lives far away.
Putting this list into action can help ease the stress of long-distance caregiving. So too could a plan that begins with communication. Learning more about what a loved one wants when it comes to end-of-life planning, and living and financial choices, might help caregivers and other family members feel more organized.
Remember, if you’re a working family caregiver, the stress of caring for someone long distance could be jeopardizing your own health. It’s important that you and your loved one understand the impact of long-distance caregiving on family members providing that care.Some caregivers find that their aging loved one is initially resistant to help. But when shown the benefits, many older adults enjoy having help in the home. And family caregivers reap the benefits of respite care too and the peace of mind that comes with hiring professional help.