In recent generations there has been a diaspora of families. Jobs, education, and loved ones have spread families out across the country and the globe. When our aging loved ones need assistance, it can be complicated to coordinate efforts or know exactly how to help.
The Long-Distance Caregiver
We tend to associate the idea of the family caregiver as someone who is providing the day-to-day hands-on care for a loved one. However, caregivers can also be adult children who are coordinating and managing the care for a loved one from a distance. Family caregivers carry the responsibility for their loved ones’ well-being and safety whether they live 4 miles away or 4,000 miles away. About 7 million people are in the position of being a long-distance caregiver. If you or your family members are among them, here are a few tips for the long-distance caregiver:
- Keep your guilt in check. It is only natural to feel guilty when you are unable to help in a situation. Instead of being weighed down by the guilt of not being there, ask what you can contribute to the situation. Maybe it is a contribution of listening to a caregiver’s experience, or doing research on services that are needed, or making a financial contribution. There is always more than one way to help.
- Talk openly with your aging loved one. It is crucial to have difficult conversations about end-of-life wishes and who they want to be their power of attorney. Thanks to technology, you can contribute to and help guide these conversations from anywhere.
- Call a family meeting and lead a discussion to set expectations and talk about needs and responsibilities. Encourage honesty about what each person can and can't do.
- Be aware of your own loss. Just because you are geographically removed from the situation doesn’t mean that you are emotionally removed. Take time to grieve and experience the range of emotions associated with the changes occurring with your aging parent. This will help manage your own stress.
- Gather resources and begin creating a future plan with the family. Even if they are not needed in the moment, it can be a real gift to have plans at the ready before a crisis.
Communicating with Local Siblings
One of the most difficult situations is when one sibling lives locally to the parent and the other siblings are spread out throughout the country. It is common for the local family member to take on the bulk of the responsibility simply due to their proximity to the situation. It is so crucial for those caregivers to stay in emotional proximity to the changing needs of an aging parent. Here are a few tips for caregivers living far away from an aging parent and local family:
Communicate your appreciation for family that are close by and acknowledge specifically what tasks they are doing. It is important that efforts are recognized.
It can be difficult when a family member is doing something or handling a situation much differently than you would. Picking your battles will really help manage your own anxiety and reduce the stress in your relationship to your sibling. Ask questions and seek to understand before you criticize a decision. This will help your fellow caregiver feel understood and respected.
- Use technology to your advantage to coordinate tasks and communicate. From Skype, GoToMeeting and WhatsApp, there are many tools and platforms for doing face to face communication. A huge percentage of communication can be lost by just talking on the phone. Whether you are communicating with a sibling or talking with your aging loved one, seeing the person online can help you assess their demeanor. Apps like Unfrazzle and About One can also help you manage schedules and document who is doing what and when.
- Help get important records and passwords documented in a digital format. It can really benefit family members in an emergency to have important information in one place and portable. Cloud storage solutions such as DropBox or EverNote can help share important information and documents between long-distance family members as well.
Role of a Care Manager
A Geriatric Care Manager can be a huge asset to long-distance and local family. They are able to be the eyes and ears for family living far away. As registered nurses and social workers, they specialize in the care of aging adults and are able to guide the care of a loved one. They provide a neutral assessment of the aging adult and their living environment and can make recommendations based on their professional expertise. Think of it as having an elder care nurse in the family. They are able to lead important discussions, coordinate transitions, and make proactive changes to care before they become bigger problems later. If help in the home for meals or medication management is necessary, your Care Manager can also arrange for appropriate local services which can be a life saver for family caregivers several time zones away. Whether an aging loved one needs help managing a chronic illness or the family needs help managing a crisis, having a single point of communication can save family an enormous amount of time and stress. To find a certified Care Manager anywhere in the United States you can visit www.CareManager.org. Here in the Puget Sound region, Sound Options is the largest Care Management firm in Washington State and has been offering families quality Care Management services since 1989. Give us a call.
Wherever you are, we’re here to help. 800.628.7649
For further resources, check out this PDF guide from the National Institute on Aging called, “So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving”
Published on August 17, 2015.