Believe it or not, one out of every eight caregivers live an hour or more away from their senior loved one, who is becoming increasingly fragile or physically showing signs of some form of dementia.
If you fit the criteria for the “one,” you wonder if Mom or Dad are OK. Have they taken their medications correctly? Are they eating sufficiently, or at all? Have they tried to wander?
You visit as often as you can and make doctor appointments for them, see that their bills are paid, and check their refrigerator to see if food has gone bad. But you are an hour away, and as you know, a lot can happen in an hour.
You may not realize it, but you are experiencing tremendous physical and emotional stress due to your worries about your parents.
The Toll for Long-Distance Caregivers
People who live a substantial distance from their senior loved one experience some unique hardships.
Long-distance caregivers spend twice as much money on providing care for the senior adult as do caregivers who are close by. Travel expenses and employing in-home services for the senior add up quickly.
Additionally, time away from work and your own family, using up your vacation days, and the effort to secure the needed services and care for the senior add up.
Studies show that these caregivers can actually incur more stress than on-scene caregivers and pay significantly more in medical costs for the emotional and physical stress that ensues.
How to Manage Stress
Create a Plan
Begin by examining the resources available to you. That may start with a family meeting to discuss the needs of the senior loved one, identify who will be the primary caregiver, and determine what roles other siblings will play.
Someone will need to obtain the legal authority to make financial and healthcare decisions for the senior. The current financial portfolio of Mom and Dad, and the willingness of family members to chip in with financial support, should determine which services are possible and where-in the home or a senior living community—they will be provided.
If the senior is staying in their home, the family needs to identify who will help maintain the household, shop for groceries, manage medications, transport the senior to doctors’ appointments, and perform the many other day-to-day tasks that are required. Much of the stress of a long-distance caregiver is found in trying to scramble for help for Mom or Dad at the last minute.
The long-distance caregiver may play the role of paying bills online or looking into possible insurance and other benefits the parent could be entitled to
A contact list that includes everyone involved in the senior’s care, including physicians, specialists, in-home care professionals, and family and friends who may by assisting, could be very helpful.
Explore Other Resources
There are many services available to assist caregivers in helping them find the support needed, including sites like Care.com, which matches professional caregivers with seniors.
AARP provides a wealth of information for caregivers as well. AgingCare is a site where family caregivers share their comments, observations, questions and answers.
Consult a Geriatric Care Manager
These care managers are members of a comprehensive team of care management professionals who work with senior adults to improve and maintain their health, wherever they may live. They can assist with navigating the health care system, answer insurance questions, coordinate accessing benefits, assess the home for safety, bring medical professionals into the home, see to the basic needs of the senior, and resolve conflicts that may arise within the family.
Consider Tech Help
There are a growing number of devices that will help a senior adult remain safe in their own home and can remotely notify long-distance caregivers to potential problems. They include:
- Automatic pill dispensers
- Fall protectors
- Stovetop sensors
- Movement monitoring systems
- Emergency alert and response systems
Take Care of Yourself
When you are finished addressing all that needs to be addressed, there is still one more task to perform: Let go of your guilt, anxiety, self-doubt, and all those thoughts that keep you up at night. They will not make things any better for Mom or Dad, and the price you could personally pay for them is too high.
For more information on our Care Management services, check out our Care & Services page.