The Distant Caregiver
Updated: Sep 12
The distant caregiver role can be emotionally taxing, and one may feel quite detached from a loved one. The remote caregiver or family member is usually out of state and not close enough to their loved one to provide hands-on care in person. Most times, the caregiver tries to participate in the care of a loved one as best as they can, but distance can be a barrier in this family dynamic.
Many adult children live thousands of miles away from their parents and cannot be present daily. This sandwich generation attempts to care for their children and their older adult parents simultaneously; geographical distance can add additional strain to this situation. It is essential for adult children and families to find ways to connect with their loved ones and have some level of engagement with the care of their older adult parents. I have worked with families combatting this challenge and am currently walking through this journey with my father. I will share what has been most helpful for me and interventions that may help address the challenges of distant caregiver engagement.
Weekly Facetime Calls/Zoom Sessions
Weekly and regularly scheduled video calling applications, such as Facetime for casual calls or Zoom video conferencing for larger family meetings, can be a helpful tool to ensure all family members are involved and engaged in your loved one's care. These video conferencing tools are beneficial if you have a loved one with dementia and another caregiver accompanies them to a doctor's appointment. The distant caregiver can schedule to be present for the doctor's appointment by utilizing one of the mentioned video conferencing tools. The distant caregiver can ensure the right questions are asked and be part of the healthcare conversation through these helpful aids. These communication tools can help keep everyone abreast of healthcare needs and the care plan.
Multiple Siblings and Sharing the Caregiving Tasks
You may be the distant sibling, and your sister or brother may live geographically closer to your parents. How can both siblings engage in the care so the care is balanced amongst caregivers? This can be complex to tackle because the sibling who lives closer to mom or dad often engages in more in-person care. The distant caregiver may feel a sense of guilt because of their inability to provide hands-on care or be physically present. It is essential to know that balance for all caregivers is vital so neither sibling feels burned out. An intervention, such as rotating caregivers, allows multiple extended family and friends (i.e., church members, and close friends) the ability to donate time to the person who requires care, allowing each caregiver time to rest. Other interventions to balance the caregiving task are to hire more professional caregivers or apply for local state-funded caregiving programs. Hiring a private caregiver or applying for a state-funded caregiver program allows for supplemental care provided by outside caregivers and gives family caregivers respite. The primary goal is to enable family caregivers to participate in their parent's care realistically and spread the care tasks to offer family caregivers balance and the ability to manage their own personal commitments.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney document established by the care recipient can help caregivers distribute tasks based on their designation of responsibilities in the power of attorney. For instance, one adult child may have been selected as the financial power of attorney because they manage a budget well and can assist their loved one with financial decisions (i.e., paying bills, banking). The other sibling may be selected as the healthcare decision-maker for their loved one because they are in the healthcare field and understand healthcare more. An established power of attorney form can help caregivers split tasks, have early-on conversations about expectations, and prepare for situations where the adult children execute the power of attorney. Both powers of attorneys can execute their roles remotely, whether in financial or healthcare decision-making.
Care Managers to the Rescue!
Hiring a geriatric care manager is one of the final tools and interventions that may be helpful for families and adult children who are distant from their parents or can't take on many tasks for their loved ones. Care managers are skilled nurses, social workers, or other healthcare professionals who have experience working with the geriatric population and managing doctor appointments, transportation, medication, and oversight of daily care needs. Care management services are typically a private-pay service. A great resource to find geriatric care managers would be the Aging Life Care Association (aginglifecare.org).
Overall, families must work together to deliver care for their loved ones. Each caregiver can contribute to the care differently and feel included in the overall goal to help the care recipient. Teamwork among family members and the engagement of the distant caregiver in a meaningful way is a positive experience for the entire family unit and is encouraging for the person receiving care.
Kielly Brew-Chann, LCSW