Taking care of a family member’s safety and health can be difficult when you live in another city, state or country. In today’s mobile society, many families are geographically spread apart, and that can create a constant sense of concern and generate tremendous guilt.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that seven million Americans are long-distance caregivers, defined as providing caregiving for someone who lives an hour’s drive or more away. This can include providing respite care to a spouse or another relative who is the primary in-home caregiver; providing remote financial or medical management support; arranging and supervising in-home care; or being available in case of emergency.
The typical long-distance caregiver is a middle-aged working mother with many family responsibilities at home. But happily this is changing as more men become engaged. Some surveys now show men are up to 40 percent of all caregivers. But whatever your gender, income, age, social circumstances or employment, long-distance caregiving is an enormous challenge.
The Baby Boomer population is rapidly aging, with 20,000 people turning 65 every day in the United States over the next few decades. Seniors and their loved ones may not be aware of a gradual decline and may be reluctant to accept reality, or unable to plan for needed care.
It can be very difficult to determine when aging shifts from manageable with a few adaptations to an acute situation where a higher level of care is needed. Family dynamics and emotional or psychological issues can cloud the decision-making to an ever greater degree.
Frequently, long-distance caregiving starts out on a manageable level. It may take the form of more regular phone calls to check up on a loved one, an offer to get medical information or take care of banking or bill payment tasks. Next it’s a monthly visit to help out, buy groceries, cook and do some chores. Before you know it, your family member needs more help than you are able to manage.
As the president and founder of a private-duty home care agency for 28 years, my great fear is that unless we educate ourselves and remain vigilant as a society, problems associated with long-distance caregiving are only going to grow worse as the “Silver Tsunami” hits.
Here are some online resources that can help you and your family navigate this difficult path:
- The National Institute of Health – So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving
- Family Caregiver Alliance – Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers
- Metlife and the National Alliance of Caregivers – Long Distance Caregiving
Thankfully for many, private caregiving in the home is all that’s needed to prevent or at least prolong the time before more intensive assisted living is necessary. Everyone wants to stay in his or her home as long as possible. We should aggressively embrace this model of senior care, because it is the most cost effective as well as the most humane.