The chances are good that, at some point, you will be in the position of having to provide some sort of care for a loved one—a child, spouse or parent. It’s even more likely that you’re going to find yourself trying to oversee the care of an aging parent who lives out-of-state.
Current statistics show that approximately 15% of the nation's 34 million people who provide care for older family members live an hour or more away. The numbers are expected to increase dramatically as the US population ages.
Long distance care can be a burden, but there are some powerful tools for caregivers that can help overcome the distance.
In an ideal world, your parents will have made plans in advance outlining steps to be taken in case of an unexpected health event. However, that rarely happens. While not all caregiving begins after a medical emergency, but a great many do, and medical decisions can be of prime importance.
Following the initial decision-making at the hospital, there are logical steps to follow in making decisions for extended care, and often the best resource is the hospital or medical community
Other family members, friends and neighbors (both yours and your parent's), employers and community and governmental agencies, membership organizations, and faith-based resources can all be called upon for information and services. When you are in the situation of having to make life-changing decisions for your parents, it is imperative that you gather as much information as quickly as possible.
The internet is your best friend. In many areas of the country, you can simply search for "tools for long distance caregivers" and you will find a wealth of information at your fingertips.
- The HHS Administration on Aging maintains an online directorythat is state and even area-specific. It is easy to access and represents one of the most powerful tools for caregivers that is readily accessible no matter where you live.
- The American Society on Aging is a valuable resource that you might want to familiarize yourself with before a need arises. In addition to listing valuable resources, the online site has an excellent blog that will keep you up to date on eldercare issues of interest. The organization also offers a series of web seminars to its members, with many of them also available free of charge to non-members.
- National Institute on Aging is another great online resource that offers plenty of free materials to caregivers; again, you might want to spend some time here in advance of the need.
- National Caregivers Library, a third site in the lineup of exemplary resources, has a series of assessments, checklists, questionnaires and worksheets that you can download free of charge as you make determinations about the need for care and the steps you will take once you become a long-distance caregiver.
Emotional and Financial Burden
The toll on an individual of providing interim or long-term care for a loved one can become a very real burden that is heightened by distance.
On top of the typical expenses, the cost of travel can be high, and time away from your own home, family, activities and work is a physical and emotional drain. In 1996, nearly one-third of employers offered some sort of referral, resource or assistance programs for their salaried workforce. Be sure to ask your company about its policies. There are also federal and state laws which sometimes govern medical caregiving leave, flexible scheduling and financial assistance.
The best course of action is to have an honest conversation with your parents about planning for future care. Ensure that medical directives and required legal documents are in place and in effect. And remember that a great many powerful tools for caregivers exist. When the need arises, do not hesitate to use them.