In such a mobile society, it's common for parents to live across the country rather than across the street, making long-distance caregiving a fact of life for many people. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about 14 million Americans will be long-distance caregivers by 2012. That's an awful lot of travel that members of the "sandwich generation" have to add to their already full plates, as they juggle careers and childrearing.
While caregiving responsibilities have traditionally fallen more on women's shoulders, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) reports that now men represent nearly 40 percent of caregivers. According to NIA, regardless of your gender, income, age, social status, and employment, you may take on caregiving responsibilities at some point in your life. And if you live more than an hour away from older family members or those who may need your help, you may find yourself in the role of long-distance caregiver. Here are some ideas to help prevent burnout and maximize the support role for long-distance caregivers.
Take Care of Yourself First
It's important that you make your own health and wellness a priority. You can't effectively help others if you neglect your own needs. If you don't take the time to eat right, sleep enough, exercise, and allow for sufficient downtime for yourself, caregiving will quickly burn you out. Your aging parent won't benefit from your help when you're running on fumes, so it pays to be prudent.
Do Your Homework
One way you can be active from a distance is research about your parent's specific situation. Learn about any conditions or symptoms that your parent is facing, as well as treatments and resources that might be available near them. NIA recommends that one family member be designated to receive written permission to access your parent's medical and financial information. Keep accurate, up-to-date records of all information relating to their care.
When traveling long-distance for caregiving, it becomes even more vital to think through logistics before your arrival. Set clear and realistic goals for what you want to accomplish during your stay. Talk to your parent and their primary caregivers to determine what their most pressing needs are, and how you can be most helpful during your stay. Don't be overambitious--save lower priorities for a future visit.
Spend Time Together
Although the main purpose of your trip is to ensure that your parent's medical needs are attended to, you'll both enjoy your visit more if you make some time to do things together that aren't related to caregiving. Find simple and relaxing activities that you can do with your parent to make the time more special for both of you.
For additional information and resources on long-distance caregiving, contact the Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator, which provides programs and support services for the elderly and their caregivers through local and state agencies. You can reach the Eldercare Locator at (800) 677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov.