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Four Tips for Long-Distance Caregiving

elderly woman wearing blue and white scarf looking at camera and smiling in room with fireplace

“My mother is 86 and lives by herself. She’s been pretty independent, but is starting to have some health issues and needs help with daily tasks. My brothers and I all live in other states, so we can’t be there for her. We visit or bring her out to see us when we can, but that doesn’t seem to be the best solution. We’re not sure what to do.”

There’s no doubt — trying to take care of aging parents from a distance is hard. Stress and guilt take an emotional toll, and many people find themselves under financial stress, too. Long-distance caregivers spend an average of $8,728 each year in care-related expenses.

About 15 percent of caregivers in the U.S. are long-distance caregivers living an average of 450 miles away.

Long-distance Caregiving Tips

You can’t be there in person all the time, so what can you do? Here are four strategies for helping your loved one, even when you’re far away.

  1. Evaluate What You Can Do
    It’s ok that you can’t do everything for your parent. (You might want to memorize that sentence.) No one can do it all. Embrace that, and then look at what you are able to do.What are your strengths? Are you good with money? You can help pay bills and manage finances. If you’re an organizer, you could coordinate medical care, organize important documents, or arrange for friends and neighbors to visit or bring meals. Other helpful tasks include family communication, finding local resources for transportation or home maintenance, researching senior living options, and giving emotional support.Once you know what you can do, you’ll be able to make a plan that covers the gaps.
  2. Explore Different Living Arrangements
    Sometimes a parent’s health requires help that’s closer to home. In a few cases, families can make it work to move closer to the parent. Others families find it makes the most sense to have the parents move closer to the adult children. If moving is simply out of the question, hiring in-home care — either full-time or part-time, can provide the assistance needed. Senior living communities are an option that can provide 24/7 access to medical care, assistance with activities of daily living, enriching programs and activities, and a built-in social network that helps combat loneliness.
  3. Have a Family Meeting
    Whether it’s in person, on the phone or via Skype or FaceTime, gather the family together to get everyone on the same page. You all need to understand what the issues are and what your parent wants. Then you can work out a plan of action that accommodates everyone’s skill sets and schedules. This way, everyone has some agreed-upon responsibilities and knows what to do. Once the plan is in place, keep each other updated on changes and issues.What if you’re an only child or have siblings unable or unwilling to help? Then it will be a small family meeting with just you and your parent. You don’t have to do everything yourself (see the previous tip). You can make arrangements for help. Just be sure to involve your parent in the process. Here are some useful ways to get the conversation started and come to a decision everyone is comfortable with.
  4. Stay Connected
    Some families schedule conference calls with doctors or senior living community staff to get up-to-date information about their parent’s health. If you have a neighbor who regularly checks on your parent, get updates from them. And, of course, keep in touch with your parent. Phone calls and emails are a simple way to reach out, and they go a long way toward keeping your relationship strong.Distance is a challenge when caring for elderly parents. But it can be overcome. With some strategic planning and a team effort, you can make sure your parent is getting the assistance they need.

Sources:

  • Nearly 7 Million Long-Distance Caregivers Make Work and Personal Sacrifices. National Council on Aging. (2006)
  • Miles Away: The MetLife Study of Long-Distance Caregiving. National Alliance for Caregiving and the MetLife Mature Market Institute. (2004)
  • Valuing the Invaluable: The Economic Value of Family Caregiving. AARP Public Policy Institute. (2008)
  • Long-Distance Caregiving: Getting Started. National Institute on Aging

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