During my childhood, I can’t remember a time when our house was not filled with at least one person, who required hands on personal care on a regular basis. Most times, there were two, sometimes three people in our home.
In hindsight, my mom ran a personal care home, without pay, and without a license. But, I don’t think we were special, it’s just how people in a small Tennessee town did things. We looked after each other and took care of friends and neighbors in need.
Not only, did my mother care for others in our home, but she also cared for others outside of our home. As a child, in the summer, I recall going to Mr. Wilson’s house every morning. Mr. Wilson had been my mom’s high school principal. I sat at his kitchen table watching my mom make his breakfast, lunch and dinner. His wife had died years before, and his daughter lived on the West coast.
Caring from afar creates stress. I know this because twenty years ago I was a long distance caregiver for my father. After hours of driving, and countless phone calls from my father, and to his physician; I made the decision to move him to the city where I lived.
Living away from an aging parent can impact one’s family life, finances, and career, not to mention emotional well being. It often requires long-distance caregivers to miss work to care for their relatives, manage and supervise paid care providers from a distance, and feel left out of decisions made by health care professionals or other family members who live closer.
Mr. Wilson’s daughter and my situation were hardly unique. Rather, it is the life of the long-distance caregiver. Approximately 5-7 million caregivers in the U.S. (about 15% of all caregivers) are long-distance caregivers. This number is projected to double by 2020. (National Council on Aging. (2006).
How to Handle Long-Distance Caregiving?
There are no quick and fast answers that will give long distance caregivers peace of mind. Each case is different, and you will have to determine what is best for your particular situation. However, here are some ideas to consider:
• If you are the primary caregiver, identify someone you can trust to be your eyes and ears when you’re not available. This may mean counting on a trusted neighbor or friend, or hiring a licensed home care agency.
• Find senior resources located near your loved one to identify available programs.
• Compile a list of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications used by your loved one, including doses and schedules.
• Work with your loved one to create an advance directive stating his or her health care treatment preferences.
• Consider the use of a Personal Emergency Response System.
These ideas may help provide some peace of mind to long distance caregivers in a world that has grown larger and resulted in family members living further apart.
Kasi Tiller is the CEO of Legacy Home Care Services, Inc. Legacy Home Care Services provides non-medical personal care and companion services to clients and respite care for caregivers. Call our office at 678-713-1412 or log onto www.legacy-homecare.org for more information.