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Tips For Long Distance Caregiving

Being a long distance caregiver can be particularly difficult.

When the telephone rang at 5 am, John knew that it couldnít be good news at that early hour. He was right. His Momís neighbors were calling him from 850 miles away in Texas to let him know that she was out watering her roses an hour ago on a cold, early spring morning.

John knew that his Mom had been failing. She wasnít the same Mom he could always count on to stand by him. Now he needed to stand by her. But how could he do it from 850 miles away? 

Most families are now living further apart from each other than ever before. This is difficult because your elders require ever-increasing assistance, yet the distance between you makes it difficult to perform the tasks required of a primary caregiver.

But most elders are reluctant to leave their homes of many years to move to the town in which their adult children live. This reluctance often becomes a stressful point of contention between adult children and their parent(s). 

Quite often, it is simply a financial issue. In-home care and assisted living can be much more expensive in New York or California than in the nation's heartland. Available resources simply may not stretch far enough to allow one to live as one chooses.

Regardless of the reasons, many adult children find themselves far away from their parents and concerned that they aren't doing as well as they may insist in those telephone visits. Here are a few tips to help manage long distance caregiving:

  • Try to visit and assess the situation as soon as possible. Take notes of possible problem areas and gather information about available senior resources in their area.
  • Make sure your loved one's legal and financial affairs are in order. Keep copies of all important papers and phone numbers of contacts.
  • Plan ahead to have backup providers ready to care for your own family should you need to make an unexpected visit to your relative. It's also a good idea to reserve some vacation or sick days from work for these visits as well.
  • Seek the help of a Professional Care Manager who specializes in assessing and monitoring the needs of the elderly.
  • Carefully consider all the options before moving your relative, but begin discussing this possibility with him or her. You may well be surprised to learn that they are willing to move closer to you, but they never mentioned this for fear of burdening you with their problems.
  • Obtain a copy of the Yellow Pages that serves your parent's local community and keep it handy. The next time your parent calls and you need to locate resources, you won't have to seek out numbers or call information long-distance.
When you live many miles away from an aging loved one, there is usually a constant level of anxiety over his or her welfare. Every family must make their own decisions about how to handle the situation.

Dr. Mary Pipher, in her book "Another Country, Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders", makes a very convincing argument for having the aging parent(s) move near to the adult child who currently handles (or will be handling) their financial or care decisions. It's an option that deserves to be given much consideration.

Make sure you have a contact person who lives close to your parent who periodically checks on their health and cognitive status. Even better, also have someone who can act upon your and her or his behalf until you can be in a position to act yourself.

About the author:

Linda LaPointe, MRA, has helped hundreds of families as an ElderLife Matters consultant and national educator.

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