Coping as a Long-Distance Caregiver
By Marina Mails
Bereavement Counselor II
“I live in Chicago, and my 81 year old father lives in North Carolina. My dad has just been admitted to Hospice and is going to be getting care at home as he declines from congestive heart failure and other problems. I’m visiting as often as I can to try to get him settled, but I’m so worried. How can I help him? How can I know if he is OK on a day to day basis? How can I coordinate with my sister and brother to do the best we can for Dad? I can’t leave my job and family to be his full time caregiver. I don’t know what to do.”
This sentiment is very common for people who are experiencing the decline of an elderly parent or ill loved one from far away. Long-distance caregiving is a challenging, stressful, heart-wrenching task for those who want to help and be involved, but can’t be geographically close. The National Institute of Health estimates that nearly seven million people are long-distance caregivers in the United States each year. The question of how to best support a loved one from afar is a growing concern.
If your loved one is already a hospice patient, please feel free to contact the hospice social worker or other team members with questions. A conversation between your loved one (if they are able), the social worker and any other family members can help identify needs and find solutions to caregiving questions. Checking in frequently with the care team allows you to make sure your loved one’s needs are met as things change.
Because the incidence of long-distance caregiving is so common there are many useful resources online to help people plan, navigate and resolve difficult issues. The following is a list of several helpful guides that can serve as a roadmap:
- AARP caregiving resources. http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/
- From the National Institutes on Aging, “So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving.” http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/so-far-away-twenty-questions-and-answers-about-long-distance-caregiving-0
- Family Caregiver Alliance guide for long-distance caregivers. http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=1034