Caregiving pressures and concerns are tough no matter what, but distance presents even more challenges. Long-distance caregivers are more likely to take uncompensated time off work, require hired help, plus pay for travel. Even if you’re doing everything you can to understand and meet the needs of your loved one, there’s a sense of guilt about not being able to be there in person to comfort and care for them.
If you find yourself in this position, you are not alone. According to AARP, “at least one in 10 family caregivers live an hour away or more from their aging or ailing family member,” while “many are tending to a loved one from a distance of hundreds of miles”.
Detailed planning, steady communication, and creating a care team can help make you feel better about providing care from afar. Cope with long-distance caregiver’s guilt by exploring these tools and more.
Acknowledge & accept
Even in the best of circumstances, caregivers feel guilty that they’re not doing enough. Add distance on top of that, and the feeling intensifies. Recognize this emotion, and that it’s a normal reaction. Accept that there’s only so much you can do from afar.
Recruit your team
Knowing you have a team of trusted individuals caring for your loved one will help give you peace of mind. While you can handle some tasks remotely, you’ll need boots on the ground for others. Reach out to your siblings, other family members, your loved one’s neighbors, and professional service providers to create a care team for your loved one. Caregiving organizations, religious organizations, and senior care advisors can all be part of your support system. If your loved one needs help with daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, and cooking, you may need to hire an in-home caregiver.
Community organizations may offer other helpful resources. Use this Eldercare Locator to find the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA), that can provide meal delivery, community outreach, senior centers, and public services. A certified professional local care manager (aka geriatric care manager, aging life care manager, or eldercare navigator or coordinator) offers a wide range of services for managing your loved one’s care. They can help with logistics, weigh in on important decisions, help develop a care plan, hire and oversee in-home caregivers, and/or
interact with medical professionals, accountants, and people with power of attorney. Of course, this all comes at a price that isn’t covered by insurance or Medicare. So, if you have the resources, decide whether the money is worth the time and stress you’ll save.
The assurance of coordinated, capable hands can do much to relieve worry and guilt.. When assembling your team, determine who can help with what and when. Does your loved one need an escort to doctor’s appointments? Does the yard need to be mowed? What about groceries?
Make a list of everyone who can help and their contact info (including hired pros) and be sure they know how to get ahold of you. Start an email group to coordinate with team members so everyone is on the same page. Online scheduling tools like the Lotsa Helping Hands care calendar can help coordinate and keep track of appointments and task assignments. Don’t take over everything, though. Encourage responsibility and let your loved one handle what they are able in order to promote independence.
Staying informed and shorten the emotional distance by keeping in touch as often as possible. Create a call schedule to check in on your loved one regularly. Stay in the loop by checking in before and after medical appointments.
Technology can help you stay in touch, via video chat, email, text, and social media, but modern tools can also update you with health statistics. Health-related smart devices can be used (with permission of course!) to monitor things like blood pressure and glucose from afar. AARP suggests tech tools such as “video monitors, wearable activity trackers, remote door locks to prevent wandering (if the care recipient has dementia), and even electronic pill dispensers that can notify you if someone has taken the prescribed medications.”
While it can be difficult to maintain a positive outlook, celebrate small victories. Know that you’re doing the best you can with the resources you have–that’s all you can do.
Visit in person when you can
Spend quality time with your loved one when work and family responsibilities allow. Before your visit, make a list of questions or topics about their well-being that you’d like to discuss with them.
Schedule meetings with current and potential service and medical providers, like house cleaners, home aides, social workers, or other care professionals. Use these face-to-face appointments to discuss any concerns and inform care decisions.
You’ll also want to do a little recon on your loved one’s living conditions. Are they struggling with certain chores? Is their home falling into disrepair? Help with what you can and evaluate whether you need to find someone local to assist day-to-day.
Check for signs of abuse, whether that be financial, physical, or emotional mistreatment. Red flags include abnormalities in their checking account, bruises, unexplained injuries, or an abrupt change in personality. Like a concerned parent, be wary of the intentions of anyone new who enters your loved one’s life.
Don’t forget to have some fun! Your loved one may have decreased mobility and feel isolated. Make sure to get them out of the house by going to dinner or a movie. At the very least, cook them a meal at home.
No time to visit? See if you can arrange to work remotely or if you qualify for unpaid time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. For more tips on balancing work and caregiving, see our article on just that.
Be supportive & have healthy boundaries
Caregivers need care too. While caregiving duties may be taking up more and more time, make sure to carve out time for yourself. Also, be supportive of your boots on the ground. Whether it’s a sibling, other family members, or hired help who’s taking care of the day-to-day, ask how you can help and make sure they know how appreciative you are. Listen to the primary caregiver and encourage them.
That being said, setting boundaries is healthy too. Don’t get enveloped in drama. If your loved one complains when you talk to them, listen and offer support, but try not to get dragged down too. Steer the conversation toward a more neutral or positive topic.
Adeste In-Home Care offers good advice for healthy boundaries:
- Don’t engage them when they question your motives
- Don’t apologize for doing things without them
- -Establish what you can and can’t do, then stick with your plan