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Long Distance Caregiving

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Long Distance Caregiving - A Growing Phenomenon

By: Liza Berger, Staff Writer
(Page 1 of 3)

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.

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