Being a long-distance caregiver brings many conflicting emotions. You know you are doing something good for a loved one and simultaneously feel guilty because you live so far away.
That is normal. Unless you are willing to move closer to your loved one, you should know how to overcome the six most common emotional impacts of long-distance caregiving.
Overcoming the Emotional Impact of Long-Distance Caregiving
Learn to provide the best care for your loved one and cope with the stress caused by the distance with these strategies. We’ve broken them down based on the feelings you’re going through at the moment:
1. Sadness 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. Find ways to be there vicariously or figure out if it is feasible for you to visit occasionally. Try the following:
- Have a standing call with your parent weekly or daily to check in and see how they are doing
- Ask friends and family who live nearby to visit your loved one and give you an assessment of their condition
- Travel over a weekend to see them for yourself
- If you have a long flight and work, talk to your employer in advance about taking a day off each quarter each to check in on the well-being of your loved one
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 to be assessed as well as things in the home environment that you want to be checked like food, cleanliness and fall hazards.
2. The realization 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 and keep the following in mind:
- 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 and use this as the basis for a care plan
Once you have identified the care needs, delegate specific responsibilities and schedules for things like 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 a connection to doctors and other providers, the family care team can share the overall 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. Not feeling ready for the reversal of adult/child roles.
Everyone has limits. It is important to realize this and recognize that no one is fully 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.
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 everything
- 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
4. Feelings of guilt start creeping up.
It's normal to feel guilty for being so far away, but you can still be a great caregiver from a distance. Try these strategies to overcome any guilt:
- Make simple communication changes. The more you iincrease your communication and connection to your loved one, the less guilty you may feel. You can do this by:
- Calling more
- Visiting more if you can
- Sending cards and letters
- Skyping or Facetiming
- Sending quick texts throughout the day if they use a cell phone
- Accept your limitations. Realistically, you may not be able to change the fact that you are a long-distance caregiver. However, if you accept that fact as the reality of the situation and then acknowledge your strengths as a caregiver, you may begin to feel better. When you make your own expectations concrete and find a way to meet them, it can help to reduce the guilt you feel.
- List the things that you can do and the things that you cannot do
- Find help and support services to provide the things that you cannot
- Recognize your feelings. If you feel guilty, don’t try to sweep it under the rug. Realize that there are very real reasons why you feel guilty and then work to adjust the situation so you feel less so. Extend your caregiving efforts by trying the following:
- Hiring an at-home caregiver
- Installing remote monitoring technology in your loved one’s home
5. Doubting your caregiving abilities.
It is common for long-distance caregivers to doubt their abilities to care for a loved one. After all, you can’t be with them every day. They may sound frail when you talk to them, making you doubt that you are doing the right thing by living at a distance. However, you can replace that doubt with information by doing the following:
- Research caregiving and the resources for long-distance caregivers in your area
- Research the specific disease your loved one is diagnosed with so you know what to expect
- Find community services for your loved one and support groups for yourself
- Call your loved one’s doctor if you have concerns
6. Resentment is building.
For caregivers, resentment is the elephant in the room. Many feel it but few talk about it. Eventually, after months and years of caregiving, pushing personal time aside and struggling to juggle personal, work and home life, many caregivers are deeply resentful toward their loved ones.
It is easy to ask “Why me?” after years of exhaustive attention to caregiving responsibilities. If you are resentful toward your loved one, it is important to know that it is a very common feeling for caregivers.You are not a bad person because resentment has welled up.
However, it is important to resolve resentment because it can be a destructive emotion. It can interfere with caregiving duties and lead to apathy that may cause you to ignore important caregiving responsibilities. Try the following:
- Talk about it. Talk to a trusted friend, advisor or member of the clergy.
- Vent in a journal. As you write about the stress of caregiving and the resentment you feel, it may begin to release and you may feel better.
- Seek the support and help of a therapist. Resentment can quickly turn to anger so make sure to find a way to work through it and resolve it.
Successful Long-Distance Caregiving
If you are a long-distance caregiver, you are providing a very important service to your loved one. It’s important to keep brain health in mind and to learn how caregivers can sustain their emotional health.
The time that you spend caring for them and worrying about them can’t be calculated in dollars and cents. When you feel these emotions welling up, remind yourself of the good things you are doing to care for a loved one and practice being patient and kind to yourself.
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.