It can seem like an impossible decision. Do you remain a long-distance caregiver or move closer to your loved one? Should you give up your job, your community, and living near your friends to ease the burden of long-distance caregiving? There are approximately 34 million American caregivers1 and 15% of them live one hour or more away from the person in their care. On average, long-distance caregivers live an average distance of 450 miles from their loved one and travel more than 7 hours one-way to visit them. Many of them share the dilemma of whether or not to move closer to the loved one in their care. Here are some suggestions that may help you to make that decision.
Does your loved one need more care than one person can give? If the health of your loved one is deteriorating rapidly they may need skilled nursing care. Dementia and other progressive diseases can cause multiple health issues and one person is not equipped to care for them. If your loved one has trouble walking or getting out of bed, can’t remember to take medications on time, and has other physical ailments and diseases, moving closer will not improve his or her health. It is better to find appropriate, comprehensive care.
What are the reasons you are considering moving? This can be difficult to sort out, but think carefully about why you think you should move. Is it to provide direct care? Is it to resolve the guilt that you feel from living at a distance? These are vastly different reasons to move. Before picking up your life it is important to determine your motivation for moving. Living closer to your loved one will not resolve guilt. Instead, consider increasing the time you spend on the phone or video chatting with your loved one, purchase technology to be installed in your loved one’s home so that you can supervise them directly, or talk to someone who may be able to help you process the guilt you feel.
You are taking on the brunt of change. If you are faced with a situation where your loved one can no longer live alone you may feel as though it will be easier for you to move and bear the brunt of the change, rather than your loved one. That may or may not be true. If you are the primary caregiver of a loved one, ask yourself this, is it easier for you to provide care if your work, family and personal life is still in place or will it be easier if you move? Moving will add disruption to your life on top of your caregiving duties. Your loved one may not want to move or be displaced, but setting up a new living space with their belongings can help to ease the transition.
Can you establish a new life when you move? If you work independently and can work remotely from any location, that will certainly make it easier to move. If you don’t have to quit one job and find another, that is a mark in the positive column for moving closer to your loved one.
Will you be able to find housing or are you going to live with your loved one? If you move in with your loved one, will you have private space dedicated to you? You can be a positive, engaged caregiver only if you have a quiet space to go to at the end of the day. Living in the same home as your loved one may work, but make sure that you have your own room. If you can carve out space to work, relax and sleep, that will be optimal for your mental and emotional well-being.
It may sound silly, but what would your loved one want? If your loved one is in the middle or late stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, he or she may not be able to articulate what they want. What they say as they decline is not necessarily what they would tell you if they were well. As you consider whether or not to move ask yourself what your loved one’s opinion would be. What would they want you to do? It’s an important question to ask in order to honor them. The answer might also relieve some of the guilt that is driving you to consider moving.
Deciding whether or not to move to care for a loved one is a serious, complex decision to make. Consider the questions we have posed here and talk to others you may know who have made a similar journey. Be sure to ask them how they were able to manage family, work and long-distance caregiving. You want your final decision to improve things for you, not make them more difficult.