Looking after parents over long distances can be a real challenge for even the most dedicated children. Here are ways to smooth the path.
For 10 years, Kathy Waite shuttled almost 500 miles between San Diego and Northern California to help care for her aging mother. In a typical year, she made the trip three or four times, sometimes flying, sometimes driving. Last year, as her mother's needs increased, Kathy, now 58, realized she could no longer juggle her job, the constant worry, and the eight-hour trips. So she took early retirement to live with her 86-year-old mom.
"I was able to do this, but it's very difficult for the people who can't," she says. "My mom was changing so much that I wanted to spend some quality time with her."
The long-distance caregiving that Kathy managed for a decade isn't a rarity. A survey cosponsored by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) and The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that more than 7 million Americans have become long-distance caregivers -- those who manage care for a relative aged 55 years and up who lives at least one hour away.
"We expect that the number of long-distance caregivers will continue to increase as baby boomers and their parents age," says James Firman, EdD, president and chief executive officer of NCOA.
Although caring for an aging relative is a challenge in the best of times, it's doubly so when it's done across the miles. "It's much harder when you can't see your relative," says Linda Rhodes, EdD, a former secretary of aging for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, adviser to Home Instead Senior Care services, and author of Caregiving as Your Parents Age. "You're always struggling to figure out when you need to be there in person," she says.
Strategies that can help:
Make the most of visits to an elder in need of help by employing these strategies:
Originally published in Better Homes & Gardens magazine, April 2005.