Of the more than 34.2 million Americans who are providing care for an aging loved one, 15% of them live at least an hour away from that family member, according to the National Institute on Aging. This can present a significant burden to the caretaker – physically, emotionally and financially.
The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her. She is married and employed. Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. More than 37% have children or grandchildren under 18 years old living with them. (National Alliance for Caregiving /AARP)
Even though these long-distance caregivers may not be providing hands-on, everyday care, they still bear the burden of coordinating (and often paying for) local care for their loved one, which can be time consuming and stressful. Add to that travel costs for check-in visits, and time away from work, their families and other personal responsibilities, and it can be overwhelming.
A study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and EverCare, a home health agency, found that the value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion).
According to an AARP report, Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, 6 in 10 caregivers say they have experienced at least one impact or change to their employment situation as a result of caregiving, such as cutting back on their work hours, taking a leave of absence, or receiving a warning about performance or attendance.
Data from that same report indicates that 38% of caregivers characterize their caregiving situation as highly stressful (4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) and an additional 26% rate their situation as moderately stressful (3 on a 5-point scale). One in 5 caregivers said they suffered financial strain as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.
So, if you are a caregiver, or think you might be in the future, what can you do to mitigate the stress? Here are some tips.
Get organized. Be sure you have the necessary information to locate your loved one’s important records and contacts, e.g., banking and mortgage information, contact numbers for their physician, attorney, accountant, etc. Keep a care notebook so you have all the information in one place. You can also use the notebook to track medications, changes in health, notes from doctor visits, etc.
Assemble your support team. You don’t have to do it alone. In fact, you’ll be doing yourself and your loved one a disservice if you try to. Reach out to other family members, and to close friends for support. Even if it’s just a shoulder to lean on or someone to listen (although hopefully family members will be able to share some responsibility) having that support is essential.
Seek out qualified professionals. One of the biggest challenges of caring for an aging loved one, especially from a distance, is managing the household finances and various service providers. This is where someone like me comes in. Some of the things I’ve done for clients include: setting up online bill pay; negotiating contracts with vendors; setting up controls to help prevent financial abuse; and developing various financial scenarios to help families determine the most economically feasible living situation for their senior. This can be especially helpful when trying to determine whether you should move your loved one closer to you. I also have a wide network of professionals in other areas of senior care that I can refer to you.
Take care of yourself. Schedule “me” time to give yourself a break and do something you really enjoy – take a hike, go to a yoga class, get a massage, see a movie, whatever.
Leverage available resources. Here are a few:
- Agingcarecom provides caregivers with information and assistance on a variety of caregiving topics.
- Benefitscheckup.org helps seniors and their families determine benefit eligibility for services in their area.
- Family Caregiver Alliance provides personalized support for family caregivers of adults with chronic physical or cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, Parkinson’s, and other illnesses.
- Another great resource especially for long distance caregivers is the MetLife publication, Since You Care.
Please contact me if you’d like to discuss your situation. I can help.