There are many millions of caregivers of senior’s across the nation and our numbers are expected to grow as the population ages. With many boomers desiring to age in place and stay in their homes, the number of caregivers will only continue to grow.
Unfortunately, this means that family members who live in other parts of the country and in some cases in other countries have been called upon to be caregivers to family members who are aging.
We have become a very mobile society and many of us have relocated to cities and towns that we did not grow up in leaving behind the family home. We are now being called back to be caregivers.
By 2012 there could be as many as 12 million long distance caregivers. There are many problems that are inherent in caregiving from a distance. Here is an interesting article from US News & World Report that explores some of the problems long distance caregivers face and how they are perceived by the local caregivers.
The article coins a new phrase that some of us may not have heard yet. They refer to long distance caregivers as “pigeons” or “seagulls” because we often swoop in, stay for a short time and can often leave a mess in our wake. Sometimes this may be the case as we are seeing our senior loved one intermittently which makes every decline more apparent to us. Seeing our seniors get weaker, thinner, more forgetful and vulnerable is very hard for long distance caregivers. They may want to find someone to blame for this speedy decline in their senior’s instead of stopping to consider that this may be a natural progression or a consequence of their disease process.
What we feel is guilt and helplessness since we can’t be side by side every day. Our feelings are expressed oftentimes by making demands on local caregivers and seeking answers to questions that can’t be answered which may leave the perception of upsetting or messing with local caregivers. Not being able to see what is going on day to day can increase both frustration and anxiety in family members.
If we keep open lines of communication between long distance and local caregivers, the “pigeons” may not feel the need to swoop in with demands and instead visit with the idea of enjoying time together because they are informed about day to day events. One way to do this is through social media or Skype so that there is more timely communication and the ability to see the changes happening with their senior instead of being shocked when they arrive.
There may be other pressures on long distance caregivers than the local caregivers realize who may find their involvement too minimal. There are financial costs to long distance caregiving such as travel costs, family time disrupted, lost work time, and many other costs of long distance caregiving. There are also the emotional costs of feeling too far away, helpless, frustrated, and guilty because they are not nearby.
We need to be a caregiving team for the benefit of our senior loved ones. We all want what is best for them no matter how near or far we may be.
Do you have tips for being a long distance caregiver? We would love for you to share them with our community.