If you are struggling to care for an aging parent or other loved one who lives far away from you, you probably feel quite alone. In fact, nearly 7 million Americans are trying to do the same thing.
The vast majority of people over age 65 live with at least one chronic health condition. Ensuring that an elderly loved one has the care and support they need when you can’t be with them every day is complicated, but with teamwork, coordination and a willingness to ask for help, it can be done.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) describes a long-distance caregiver as anyone who lives an hour or more away from the person they are helping. A long-distance caregiver may:
- Help manage finances and bills
- Arrange for in-home care in the form of home health aides and durable medical equipment
- Evaluate skilled nursing facilities
- Provide emotional support and respite care for primary caregivers
- Research health problems or medicines, advocate for your loved one or manage insurance benefits and claims
- Keep family and friends updated and informed
- Create a plan and organize paperwork to be used in an emergency
Brian K. Unwin, M.D., chief of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Carilion Clinic, recommends taking advantage of in-person visits to evaluate three aspects of your loved one’s life: their physical safety at home, their physical and emotional health and their financial situation.
Your loved one might resist interventions, so be sure to include them in any planning and acknowledge their contributions as you work together to help them remain independent as long as possible.
To that end, the American Geriatrics Society encourages caregivers to enlist their loved ones in monitoring their own mobility and safety, and reporting any changes in daily activities such as:
- Using the toilet
- Bathing or dressing
- Getting in and out of bed or a chair
- Managing their finances and paperwork
- Walking or driving
- Using the phone
- Managing medicines
- Grocery shopping or cooking
Caring from afar means relinquishing control and relying on others to be your eyes, ears and hands. Carilion Clinic Home Care recommends forming a team to support your efforts to care for your loved one.
Your care team should include medical professionals, friends, family members, community resources and of course, your loved one. Ask what each team member is willing and able to do, from mowing the lawn to working a puzzle together to driving to doctor’s appointments.
The Home Care team recognizes that while it is natural to feel guilty about delegating certain jobs, one person simply cannot do it all.
Even if your loved one is healthy, becoming a caregiver is a stressful responsibility that many people feel unequipped for. Fortunately, training is available at low or no cost in most communities.
In addition, support groups that focus on general caregiving or on a chronic illness your loved one lives with can be immensely helpful in fostering a sense of community and eliminating the loneliness that many caregivers feel. The Family Caregiver Alliance is a great place to start when looking for caregiver support.
And finally, remember to take care of yourself. Whether it's quiet meditation, a workout or time with friends, self-care can boost your mental and physical well-being.