Taking care of aging parents or loved ones can definitely be a challenge. Whether it’s shuttling them to and from doctor appointments, helping out with the grocery shopping, cleaning house, or managing their finances, caregiving for the elderly can be an exhausting endeavor. However, as stressful as it may be to take care of your aging parents across town, long-distance caregiving can seem even more daunting, adding additional stressors to an already stressful undertaking.
The National Institute on Aging defines someone as a long-distance caregiver if they live an hour or more from someone who needs care. As mentioned earlier, caregiving in any context can seem like a huge task, and the extra distance amplifies this. Long-distance caregivers act as information coordinators, helping their loved ones navigate the world of medical, financial, and day-to-day challenges from a distance. It is easy to find oneself overwhelmed as a long distance caregiver, but if you take a few of the following points into consideration, it is possible to relieve much of the tension and stress.
Determine the level of care needed
Obviously, long distance means that you may not be able to visit as often as you’d like, so it can be harder to determine the status of your loved one. If your loved one is the proud, guarded type that may not be completely forthcoming about the help they need, this can be even more difficult. Therefore, you may need to work a little differently to figure out how much help is needed. If a friend or relative lives closer to your loved one than you do, have them stop by and give you an update. If speaking to your loved one on the phone, ask direct questions. For example, at dinnertime, ask what’s for dinner, rather than just a general “How are you doing?”
Don’t wait for an incident to happen before having a plan to deal with it. Organize family meetings with relatives to discuss future plans and important decisions, gather necessary information for friends and health professionals, and write and review important documents, like wills, before they’re needed.
Find a geriatric care manager
Professional care managers are available to help ease your burden and take care of your loved ones. They are usually licensed nurses or social workers who specialize in geriatrics. These geriatric care managers can help families evaluate and assess a parent’s needs and to coordinate care through community resources. Prices vary and can be expensive, but many families find these professionals to be an invaluable resource. Visit www.eldercare.gov and use the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, for recommendations.
Know you’re not alone
Approximately 7 million adults in the U.S. are long-distance caregivers. Historically, middle-aged, working women with family responsibilities of their own were caregivers, but not so much anymore. 40% of caregivers are now men, and all caregivers span a huge range of income levels, backgrounds, ages, and employment levels. If you ever feel overwhelmed, take solace in knowing that there are millions of others who have been, and currently are, in your shoes.