For About and By Caregivers
Long Distance Caregiving - A Growing Phenomenon

By   Liza Berger, Staff Writer


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?
Gathering Information
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 member.

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 (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 family conferences.

It’s also important to involve the loved one in the decision-making process. 

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, experts say.

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 be proud.

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.
Phone: 800-677-1116
Web site:
Children of Aging Parents
 Provides information, referral service and educational outreach.
 Phone: 800-227-7294
Web site:

Family Caregiver Alliance
Provides information, education, services, research and advocacy for caregivers.
Phone: 800-445-8106
Web site:
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Mangers.
Locates geriatric care managers in your area.
Phone: 520-881-8008
Web site:

National Council on Aging Benefits Check-Up.
Checks eligibility to receive benefits.
Web site:
National Family Caregivers Association
A support organization for caregivers.
Phone: 800-896-3650.
Web site:

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