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Long-distance Caregiving

Caregiving takes many forms. Many of us help older, sick, or disabled family members and friends every day. We know we are helping, but we don't think of ourselves as caregivers. We are glad to do this and feel rewarded by it, but if the demands are heavy, over time we can also become exhausted and stressed. We think we should be able to handle caregiving roles on top of busy work and family schedules and begin to feel guilty and depressed as our stamina wanes.

Many of us have experienced the difficult task of assisting with the care of family living a considerable distance away. For a pastor or other church worker who has received a call to another city or state, this is often a mental and financial drain. I have experienced this when attempting to find long term care for my terminally ill mother who lived 2500 miles away.

Long-distance caregiving as defined by Family Caregiver Alliance is “care provided by a caregiver living more than an hour away from the care recipient.” Caring from a distance is difficult both emotionally and logistically and is most common in situations where adult children and their parents do not live in the same area. In these cases, the caregiver's role is not as much "hands-on" as it is gathering information about available resources, coordinating services and putting together a team of family, friends and paid help that can meet the care recipient's needs.

It is easy to become overwhelmed as a caregiver. Steps that can help are:

  • Start with a diagnosis. Learning about a family member's diagnosis helps caregivers understand the disease process and plan ahead realistically.

  • Talk about finances and healthcare wishes. Having these conversations can be difficult but completing Durable Powers of Attorney for finances and healthcare can help relieve anxiety and better prepare for the future.

  • Consider inviting family and close friends to come together and discuss the care needed. If possible, it is helpful to include the care recipient in this meeting. This meeting gives caregivers a chance to say what they need, plan for care and ask others for assistance.

  • Take advantage of community resources such as Meals on Wheels and adult day programs. These resources help relieve the workload and offer a break. Look for caregiver educational programs that will increase knowledge and confidence.

Because of the multi-faceted role that family and informal caregivers play, they need a range of support services to remain healthy, improve their caregiving skills and remain in their caregiving role. Support services include information, assistance, counseling, respite, home modifications or assistive devices, caregiver and family counseling, and support groups. While many services are available through local government agencies, service organizations, or faith-based organizations, employers' programs also can mitigate the impact that caregiving can have on workers.

The most important thing is for caregivers to avoid becoming isolated. As they take on more responsibility their social life can easily move into the background. Online and in-person groups can be very helpful in connecting with others in the same circumstances. Among the resources available are:

  • Family Caregiver Alliance (800) 445-8106 or visit, and click on "Family Care Navigator."

  • If your family member is currently in an acute care hospital, talk with the discharge planner, case manager, or social worker for assistance with local programs.

  • Medicare offers some coverage for rehabilitation and long-term care facilities. For more information:

  • Alzheimer's disease and dementia are common problems in the elderly necessitating a caregiver. For more information and resources:

  • LCMS has a network of hundreds of parish nurses and congregational health advocates throughout the country. While the capabilities of each are different, we may be able to help with identifying local resources, visitation or a fresh perspective. Contact me directly to access this resource.

With the dramatic aging of the population, we will be relying even more on families to provide care for their aging parents, relatives and friends for months and years at a time. Yet, the enormous pressures and risks of family caregiving—burnout, compromised health, depression and depletion of financial resources—are a reality of daily life for millions of American families This reality can put great strain on family caregivers, many of whom are struggling to balance their own work and family responsibilities.

Information and support services are available to preserve the critical role of caregivers. When caregivers are able to provide care, they are often able to delay costly nursing home placements and reduce reliance on programs like Medicaid. It also provides the opportunity to exercise the Christian role of loving others as ourselves.

Principal source: Family Caregiver Alliance

Ron Herman, RN 909-921-7059

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