Handling the Stress of Long-Distance Caregiving

Long-distance caregiving continues to be a growing trend with difficult challenges for adult children. The Pew Research Center estimates that one out of every 8 Adults in America between the ages of 40 and 60 is raising children of their very own and tending to aging parents. Plus, between 7-10 million adults care for their parents from far away.

Every aspect of caregiving tend to be difficult from afar including determining the level of care needed to finding good local care providers to managing the quality of care. The greatest challenge for long-distance caregivers include how to know when a senior needs help, given their loved one sounds perfectly fine on the phone and perhaps in emails or letters. Other difficulties are certainly not knowing just how to aid local siblings with caregiving; finding local professional caregiving help; checking up on a parent’s medical care; and finding time to visit them to help take care of their personal affairs, financial paperwork and residential safety.

Other challenges include providing respite care for a live-in caregiver, helping parents decide if it may be time to move from their residence to a safer environment like assisted living and not being present for the whole period of time when a parent’s life may be ending. Many long- distance caregivers feel guilty about not doing enough and concern themselves with having the ability to afford taking time away from work, leaving their family and all the costs associated with travel.

A good way to meet these challenges is to generate a solid care plan for the senior. The Family Caregiver Alliance Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers (request a copy by emailing frank@seniorcareauthority.com), has a step-by-step guide for families to:
• Assess the care status
• Develop a care team
• Hold a family meeting
Access local agencies

Determine exactly what the senior needs help doing and how much assistance is needed. Is help needed with Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) including dressing, bathing, eating, transferring oneself and toileting? What about cooking, shopping, household tasks, laundry, taking medications? Observe the senior during the day and find out which activities are the most challenging. Ask the senior where support is needed most. Chatting with the senior’s doctor can also help determine where help would be beneficial. A detailed understanding saves time and expense in the end because the help received is well aligned with the senior’s needs.

Family meetings along with other communications have become easier to coordinate with web conference calls, video chatting, texting and personal websites. Regular conference calls are the way to get updated on a parent’s health. The adult child needs to be sure they've got written permission to receive their parent’s medical and financial information. Onsite caregivers should be aware of exactly what the family wants should the senior becomes ill or has an accident.

Today, children who live far from their loved ones can monitor a parent’s health using their computers or phones using medical devices inside the senior’s home that measure and distribute vital signs, oxygen saturation, blood-sugar readings, weight, temperature, and motion detection. The Internet communicates the results to the senior’s family and doctor.

Overseeing care of loved ones from afar increases emotional and psychological stress. Many community and online resources, support groups and organizations offer help and guidance. Though each person’s situation is unique, with the right support from others, as well as the senior’s involvement wherever possible, the adult child living a long way away will feel more at ease knowing their aging parent is safe and taken care of.