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Providing care from a distance

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May 10th, 2016

For our third and final column about the rewards and challenges of caregiving, we will shift our focus to long-distance caregivers: the caregivers who live over one hour from their loved one.

Studies show that 15% to 20% of our nation’s estimated 34 million caregivers are helping from a long distance—that’s as many as 5–7 million people. 

Much like local caregivers, long-distance caregivers often find their roles slowly expanding. What begins as a weekly phone call or a monthly trip to provide emotional support can turn into daily calls to coordinate medical care, manage finances, or arrange for grocery delivery. 

Being far away from a family member who needs care can be stressful. Guilt and feelings of helplessness or inadequacy may set in even if you are doing an excellent job providing support. It is easy and common to have unrealistic expectations and overextend yourself at a cost to family, relationships, job, or personal health. 

If you are a long-distance caregiver, please remember the high value and importance of all you do. You may in fact be the main coordinator of your loved one’s needs: scheduling family meetings, taking stock of the situation, identifying major needs, and even implementing a care plan. 

Local services

Technology and remote communication are great tools, but an important part of the process is identifying what you need help with locally. Exploring community resources can be especially helpful, from arranging for a companion or aide to coordinating shopping or housecleaning. A good place to find assistance is often your family’s place of worship or the local agency on aging. The Eldercare Locator is a service provided by the Administration on Aging, which can connect you to valuable community resources.

While you’re busy caring for others, please remember to take care of yourself. There are often support groups in the area where you might make some good contacts and pick up some helpful tips. It may surprise you to discover how others in your situation share the same problems and challenges. The Web has a number of resources as well to find helpful hints and also to assess yourself and your own well-being (healthinaging.org). Yes, believe it or not, self-care is fundamental to caregiving. You will be a better caregiver when you feel well.

Long-distance caregiving can be effective and rewarding; it is often a gift of love and sacrifice requiring both time and energy. Please remember to keep your expectations reasonable and that being a caregiver, no matter how near or far, is the greatest of gifts. Take the time to restore yourself, stay fit, and, most importantly, remember the high value of all you do; you will feel good about it for many years to come.

 

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