Long-distance caregiving presents unique challenges as well as opportunities.
Many people find themselves in the position of caring for an aging loved one. Whether it is providing full-time care or playing a smaller support role, it can be extremely challenging to balance one’s own life while maintaining the needs of a family member or friend. Yet, hidden in these challenges lie great rewards.
Family caregiving is the bedrock upon which this country’s healthcare system depends and is the primary source of support for 65 percent of older adults in the United States. The services provided by family caregivers represent 80 percent of all homecare services and are conservatively valued at $450 billion a year — more than double the amount spent on paid homecare and nursing home services combined. Family caregivers provide an array of emotional, financial, nursing, social, homemaking and other services … and many loved ones provide this support from afar.
CAREGIVING BY THE NUMBERS
44 million: Number of Americans who care for family or friends over age 50.
20: Average number of hours dedicated to caregiving each week.
30: Percentage of caregivers who are married or living with a partner.
61: Percentage of caregivers whom have worked full time while providing care.
78: Percentage of long-term care receivers who receive care exclusively from unpaid family and friends.
Despite the obvious barriers associated with physical distance from a care recipient, there are also opportunities to help loved ones remotely. For example, a long-distance caregiver might provide emotional support to a primary caregiver, coordinate services for a loved one such as arranging for in-home care or meals on wheels, or even manage a loved one’s medical bills or finances.
EFFECTIVE LONG-DISTANCE CARE
A key component for a successful long-distance caregiving relationship is creating time for occasional personal visits and strategizing ways to create intimacy at a distance. For example, with more seniors using technology, some families schedule time to Skype with an aging loved one. This provides emotional support for the entire family. Other caregivers organize Google Hangouts between family members and care providers.
Long-distance caregiving requires organization and planning on the part of both the caregiver and receiver. Suggestions for long-distance caregivers to be effective include: Staying organized and keeping a “care inventory,” scheduling a family meeting and including the care receiver, researching the loved one’s illness and treatment, keeping in touch with the care constellation (the whole team of care providers), asking the loved one’s friends for support, seeking professional help (for example, from a geriatric care manager), planning for emergencies to avoid a crisis situation, and engaging in self-care in an effort to avoid caregiver burnout.
If you are a long-distance care receiver, make sure you put time aside to be organized, empowered and clear about the services that you need and desire. Good communication is essential.
The dramatic growth of the older adult population as the baby boom generation ages will surely lead to more people fulfilling caregiving roles. Family caregiving will continue to be a central issue in our aging society. Today, one in four U.S. households is involved in caring for a loved one aged 50 or older. Rest assured that caregivers are not alone, and society is beginning to recognize the significance of the caregiving role and the challenges this role presents.
Additionally, while mainstream media outlets, scholarly researchers and governmental agencies are quick to focus on the burdens of caregiving, it is important to highlight the benefits associated with caregiving. Caring for a loved one Means spending valuable time together, and presents an opportunity to create new memories. It means celebrating
the small things in life, resolving past hurts and conflicts, and developing personal strength and aging readiness. As a younger caregiver, one can learn from an older person’s full life experience, and share in that accrued wisdom.
By Lydia Manning
The Caregiver’s Creed
I take care of myself. I know that if I am not healthy and sound, I cannot care for another person effectively.
I accept that caregiving involves an incredible range of emotions, from anger to joy, from resentment to compassion. I accept that my feelings are not right or wrong. They just are. And they are as natural and unavoidable as breathing.
I ask for and accept help willingly. I involve my family, friends and the community in the care of my aging loved one. I understand that it’s not my role to do it all, nor is it best for my loved one.
I actively seek information that can help me as a caregiver of an aging senior. I recognize that information is empowering.
I respect the preferences and decisions of the older adult I’m caring for. I extend to my loved one the dignity and courtesy I would wish to receive if the tables were turned.
I recognize that change — both good and bad — is a natural part of caregiving for a senior. I remain flexible and open to change.
I celebrate the small successes and allow myself to grieve the disappointments. I share my feelings with those who can empathize.
I am mindful of my own needs and I guard my rights as a caregiver. I do not allow my role as caregiver to overwhelm the other aspects of my life.
I forgive myself my shortcomings and I congratulate myself for the effort and love I put into my caregiving.