Caring for aging parents is stressful, but caring long distance adds a new twist. A phone call or even a Skype conversation (if your parent is computer savvy) doesn’t tell the whole story and can keep you up at night with worry. Assurances that everything is okay, and that they are managing and that dad is only a little forgetful are found to be the tip of the iceberg when a visit home reveals that more care is needed. Long distance caregivers cannot be on hand to see changes has they happen and the challenge of gathering information and coordinating care is daunting and frustrating.
You are not alone. It is estimated that out of the approximately 34 million caregivers 15% live one or more hours away from the person to whom they provide the care (2004 MetLife/National Alliance for Caregiving report). In many situations a sibling or relative living locally are available to support their aging parent, but this can cause family drama and stress. The people providing the day-to-day support can make the long distance caregiver feel that they are not pulling their weight in caring for mom or dad. Although it is not always easy, it’s best to talk it out and come up with a plan that may make things more equal. One example is contributing money to pay for a caregiver once a week to give local caregivers a break. If money is a concern, researching and coordinating services can save local caregivers time and frustration.
For those caregivers who are the primary person providing care, it is even more imperative to hold a family meeting to discuss the following:
- Your parent’s wishes regarding end of life (DNR, resuscitation, etc.);
- Is there a Power of Attorney of health care and finances? Where is the paperwork?;
- All banking information;
- Where important documents are kept (Power of Attorney, Living Will, Last Will etc.);
- Computer passwords;
- Current Primary Care Physician and all specialists; and
- Current medication list.
Juggling a family, career and caring for a parent’s needs long-distance is a recipe for stress. Consider reaching out to community organizations and Agencies on Aging in your parent’s area for available services and advice. Look into programs such as an Adult Day Care program for extra socialization and support. Consider hiring a Geriatric Care Manager who can help coordinate care and provide a clear picture of your parent’s needs. Bottom line is don’t be shy about creating a support network for yourself and giving yourself some peace of mind.