Being a long distance caregiver is rife with conflicting emotions. You can feel the satisfaction of knowing you are doing something good for a loved one while simultaneously feeling guilty because you live so far away. That is normal, and unless you are willing to move closer to your loved one, you should know how to overcome the three most common emotional impacts of long distance caregiving. It will help you to cope with the stress caused by the distance.
1. You realize that your loved one’s illness is worsening and you can’t be there.
This is one of the toughest situations for long distance caregivers. You will have to ask friends and family who live nearby to visit your loved one and give you an assessment of their condition. You may have to take time off from work, or travel on the weekend, to see them for yourself. If your instincts are telling you that your loved one is getting worse, pay attention to them. If you or a trusted friend or family member can’t visit your loved one, find a responsible, certified home care agency to conduct a home assessment. You need to know the health status of your loved one, if they are eating, and if they are taking their medications regularly. You can make a list of medical, emotional and physical issues that you want assessed as well as things in the home environment that you want checked like food, cleanliness and fall hazards.
2. You realize that you are the only one willing to be a caregiver.
This can be a rude awakening if you live a distance from your loved one and realize that you are the only one willing to bear caregiving responsibilities. The best way to respond is with structure. Set up a family meeting immediately. Don’t wait for an emergency. Include your senior loved one in the meeting if he or she is able to participate. Ask what types of assistance would help the most. Use this as the basis for a care plan. Then set up specific responsibilities and schedules for taking your loved one to the grocery store, to the doctor, delivering or cooking meals and doing the laundry. Although one primary caregiver will need to serve as the connection to doctors and other providers, the family team can share the caregiving responsibilities. Adjust the schedule regularly. It’s not easy and not all family members will pull their weight, but it is a good place to start.
3. You realize that you are not ready for the reversal of adult/child roles.
Everyone has limits. It is important to realize this and recognize that no one is ready for the reversal of child/parent roles. Know that grieving the situation is important and that it is going to take time to come to terms with it. Even though you are caring for your parent, you are going to grieve the loss of the “good ol’ days” when things were easy and child/parent roles were clear – and in the right order. Here are some things that you can say to yourself to reinforce that you are doing the very best you can as a long distance caregiver:
- I’m not perfect, and that’s okay.
- I can’t control some things that happen.
- Sometimes, I just need to do what works for right now.
- I will enjoy the moments when we can be together in peace.
- I will try to get help from a counselor if caregiving becomes too much for me.
If you want to read more about how to cope with the challenges for caring for someone at a distance, the National Institute on Aging has a guide on Long Distance Caregiving that can serve as a good resource.
Finding a good home care agency can help you overcome the emotional impacts of long-distance caregiving. Trained caregivers can be there when you can’t be. They can also conduct a home assessment and give you a detailed description of the health and well-being of your loved one.