As difficult as caregiving can be, it is possible to take care of your own needs and provide meaningful support for your aging parent. The key is knowing how to balance these two things without either becoming overwhelmed or feeling like you’re neglecting yourself.
In this article, we’ll explore the challenges of caring from a distance—and what you can do about them.
Distance and Stress
For any caregiver, distance can be a major source of stress. This is particularly true if you live far away from your aging loved ones and don’t have a regular opportunity to spend time with them. When you’re caring for an aging parent from a distance, it’s easy to worry that something is wrong—and you can’t be there to help.
Distance also means that you can’t solve problems on the spot, or do things like providing a ride to an important appointment. It can be more difficult to keep track of all that’s going on and feel fully informed about their care—particularly if your loved one is in multiple settings, such as being cared for at an assisted living facility (ALF) and a home health agency (HHA).
It can also be difficult to find time for caregiving tasks, like visiting the doctor or researching care options. And if there are many siblings in the picture, it can be hard to get everyone on the same page about their parent’s needs and preferences.
Your loved one’s distance from you doesn’t have to mean more work for you, however. It can be easier if they’re close enough that you can visit them frequently and participate in making care decisions. If this isn’t possible, there are plenty of ways to reduce the impact on your own well-being while still doing what’s best for your loved one.
Protect Yourself—and Your Loved One
Let’s face it: family caregivers have a lot on their plate, and they don’t have the opportunity to take time off as a paid caregiver might. Sooner or later, you’re bound to be overwhelmed, fatigued, and stressed out. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself from these negative effects.
For example, if you live far away, plan regular visits with your loved one in the weeks before and after each visit—or set up a video or phone call that will help you feel connected while taking pressure off of your tight schedule. Encourage them to do the same with you.
Stress can also come in the form of guilt, and this is particularly true if you live far away from your aging loved one but still able to work or carry out normal activities—and they are not. Having a strong support network that includes friends, family members, and others who understand your situation can help you feel less guilty about living life to the fullest while your loved one might be experiencing some challenges.
Remember, though, that you can’t protect yourself from everything—and avoiding serious stress altogether isn’t healthy or realistic. You should always take time for self-care and know when it’s time to ask for help from others. If you’re having trouble balancing the demands of caregiving and your own life, you can ask other family members for additional help.
If necessary, reach out to an adult day program or a home health aide to provide respite care when you need it most. You may also want to discuss the situation with a professional geriatric care manager (GMC) who can give you advice while helping you find qualified caregivers.
Does your loved one give you a guilt trip?
If you live far away, it’s easy for your aging loved ones to feel like you don’t care as much about them.
In these situations, it’s important to remember that many older adults have difficulty telling the difference between guilt and compassion—and they might try to guilt you into doing more for them.
If your loved one uses guilt to manipulate you into doing more, it’s important to be honest about how much time and energy you can give. Be honest about your own limits, but be kind when explaining the situation.
Say something like, “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to visit as often as I’d like—right now I’m working a lot of hours at work and taking care of my family. I’m also trying to get enough sleep and exercise every day so that I can keep from getting sick.”
If you’re honest but gentle, your loved one is more likely to understand where you’re coming from—even if it’s difficult for them to hear.
Are there paid services you can use?
From Meals on Wheels to chore services and private-duty nursing care, there are many paid options for your aging loved one. These services can be expensive, but they can also be worth the cost if you have trouble juggling caregiving with work or family obligations.
If you’re able to pay for these types of services, it’s important not to feel guilty about using them. It’s your loved one who needs the service, not you—and they’ll be much happier if their care is handled professionally, instead of depending on family members who can’t spare as much time and attention.
In the end, it’s important to remember that stress is a normal part of life—and taking care of an aging parent from far away doesn’t mean that your situation has to be difficult. There are plenty of ways to manage work and loved ones without sacrificing one for the other.