It usually starts with a call: A father casually
informs you he’s been diagnosed with congestive heart
failure. Your mom’s neighbor says she’s noticed that Mom
hasn’t been herself lately. A sibling tells you it’s
about time you came down South to visit Dad.
Caregiving is often triggered by a crisis. And all of a
sudden, an adult child is forced to come to grips with a
newfound new role as a long-distance caregiver.
Thankfully, caregivers can take certain steps to help
ease the stress of the task. Collecting valuable
information on a loved one, assembling a support team
and staying in touch with the people involved are a few
ways that caregivers can take charge from afar.
A Growing Phenomenon
It is not uncommon today for children to live far from
their parents. Baby Boomers are now learning what it is
like to care for their parents from far away.
Approximately seven million adults, including more than
three million Baby Boomers, provide or manage care for a
relative or friend over the age of 55 who lives at least
an hour away. That is according to the “Handbook for
Long-Distance Caregivers” from the Family Caregiver
Alliance and its partner, the National Center on
Caregiving. Like the changing patterns of living, gender
roles have evolved too. Men now represent more than 40
percent of caregivers, the National Institute on Aging
reports. Meanwhile, a study by MetLife Mature Market
Institute in conjunction with the National Alliance for
Caregiving indicated that 23 percent of long-distance
caregivers are the sole primary caregiver.
Whether primary or secondary, man or woman, caregiving
from afar is loaded with anxiety-producing questions:
How do I make sure Mom or Dad receives the proper care?
Where do I find the necessary care services? How do I
balance my life here with caring for him there?
To help lessen the load of long-distance caregiving,
organizations recommend doing your homework. That
includes finding out who you can count on to take care
of mother on a regular basis and who you can turn to for
questions, support and help if an emergency arises. As
you continue to manage care for your loved one, it may
help to have a Care Notebook—a three-ring binder to keep
track of all the information you collect, the Family
Caregiver Alliance handbook says.
Assessing your family member’s condition is the first
step toward getting a handle on the situation,
caregiving organizations say. It should include both a
medical diagnosis and an evaluation of the individual’s
need for assistance, according to the guide “Long
Distance Caregiving” from MetLife in cooperation with
the National Alliance for Caregiving. Making regular
visits is probably the best way to appropriately
determine a loved one’s limitations and needs. Ask such
questions as: Is there a change in personal hygiene?
Does he or she appear unsteady when getting up or down
from a chair? And does he or she seem to be increasingly
forgetful? These help to determine the type and amount
of care that a loved one may require. Also, a caregiver
shouldn’t forget to always spend some quality time with
a loved one during a visit. Research is key in learning
about the types of services that are available in your
loved one’s community. One good idea is to use the phone
or computer to find out what the resources and options
are before a visit. Then a caregiver can set up
appointments to meet providers during the visit.
Caregivers should make a point of meeting their family
member’s doctors and others who help their family
Services in the community to consider include: meal
delivery, adult day care, in-home aides, transportation,
help with Medicare claims and telephone check-ins. A
long-term care facility, such as an assisted living
facility or nursing home, may also be an option. The
Administration on Aging’s Elderare Locator helps find
aging services in a particular community. To find out
more, call 800-677-1116, or visit www.eldercare.gov.
(More resources for long-distance caregivers are at the
end of the story.)
A geriatric care manager (GCM) may be just the person a
long-distance caregiver is looking for to help assess a
loved one’s needs and coordinate services. Often trained
as gerontologists, social workers or nurses, they can
suggest care options, provide referrals to local
resources and help guide you through the complex system
of long-term care.
A Team Effort
One of the most essential parts of caring for a parent
long-distance is to develop a core group of people you
can rely on to help care for your parent. That team
could include nearby siblings, other family members or
close friends; neighbors who know your relative well;
those people your loved one sees often, such as a
housekeeper; and care professionals. Make sure to keep a
list of names, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses
for all the people on your team.
It may be helpful to hold a conference with siblings and
others to discuss each person’s caregiving role. This
may be done face-to-face, on the phone or through
e-mails. Family conflicts often erupt when a parent
becomes sick. In such a situation, it may be helpful to
bring in a therapist or objective third-party to mediate
It’s also important to involve the loved one in the
Part of the information-gathering process is keeping a
family member’s important documents and medical
information at hand. This information includes a loved
one’s date of birth, Medicare and/or Medicaid number,
Social Security number and health insurance information.
(Consider copying and laminating these key documents and
keeping them in your Care Notebook.)
It’s important that caregivers tend to their own
physical and emotional health. Recognize what you can
and can’t do. Forgive yourself for not being perfect,
according to the “Long-Distance Caregiving” guide. Don’t
become isolated from your friends, families and
activities. Support groups may offer a way for
caregivers to share their feelings with others who are
in similar situations. If a caregiver is experiencing
signs of depression, sleeplessness or feelings of
helplessness, it may be a good idea to seek help,
It takes a special person to be a caregiver. Those who
are doing it should recognize that they are doing a
valuable, loving and caring act—and for this they should
There are many places long-distance caregivers
can turn to for help. Here are a few:
Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator
Helps to find local resources for the elderly.
Web site: www.eldercare.gov
Children of Aging Parents
Provides information, referral service and educational
Web site: www.caps4caregivers.org
Family Caregiver Alliance
Provides information, education, services, research and
advocacy for caregivers.
Web site: www.caregiver.org
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care
Locates geriatric care managers in your area.
Web site: www.caremanager.org
National Council on Aging Benefits Check-Up.
Checks eligibility to receive benefits.
Web site: www.benefitscheckup.org.
National Family Caregivers Association
A support organization for caregivers.
Web site: www.nfcacares.org.
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