Long Distance Care-giving for a Loved One is Particularly Difficult
The phone rang at 5 a.m. John was sure it couldn’t be good news at that hour. He was right. Mom’s neighbors were calling him from 850 miles away in Texas to say that she was out watering her roses an hour ago on a cold, early spring morning. John knew that she had been failing. She wasn’t the same Mom he could always count to stand by him. Now he needed to stand by her. But how?
Families are now living further apart from each other. This is difficult because your elders require ever-increasing assistance, yet the distance between you makes it difficult to perform the tasks of a primary caregiver. But most elders are reluctant to leave their home of many years to move to the town in which their adult children live. This reluctance can become a stressful point of contention between adult children and their parent(s).
Often, it is a financial issue. In-home care and assisted living can be much more expensive in New York or California than in the center of the country. Resources simply may not stretch as far to allow one to live as one chooses. Regardless of the reasons, many adult children find themselves far away and concerned that parents are not doing as well as they may insist in those telephone visits. There are some ways to help manage long distance care-giving. +Try to visit as soon as possible to assess the situation. Take notes of possible problem areas and gather information about senior resources in their area. +Make sure legal and financial affairs are in place. Keep copies of important papers and telephone numbers of contacts. +Plan ahead to have back up providers to care for your own family in case you need to make an unexpected visit to your relative. It is also a good idea to bank some vacation or sick days from work for these visits as well. +Seek the assistance of a Professional Care Manager specializing in assessing and monitoring the needs of the elderly. +Consider all the options before moving your relative, but begin talking with them about this possibility. You could be surprised to learn they are willing to move closer to you, but they never mentioned this for fear of burdening you with their problems. +Retain a copy of the Yellow Pages that serves your parent’s community. The next time your parent calls and you need to locate resources, you won’t need to search out numbers or call information long-distance.
When you live hundreds of miles away from an aging loved one, there is a constant level of anxiety over his or her welfare. Every family must make their own decisions about how to handle the situation. Dr. Mary Pipher, in her book Another Country, Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders makes a convincing argument for having the aging parent(s) move near the adult child who will, or currently handles their financial or care decisions. It is an option that should be given much consideration. Be sure to have a contact person who lives close to the parent periodically checking on their health and cognitive status. Better yet, also have someone who can act upon your and her or his behalf until you can.