The Challenges of Distance Caregiving

CURE, Winter 2013, Volume 12, Issue 4

Distance caregiving is difficult, but far-flung family members can provide needed help.

Although research is limited, “distant caregivers” are defined as those who provide “instrumental and emotional support to an ill loved one who is geographically distant” (50 to 300 miles or more).

About 15 percent of adult children in America are distant caregivers, according to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, and their numbers are expected to grow. Few studies address this group. In one study, interviews with adult children who had been identified as a distance caregiver by a parent with advanced-stage cancer found that most expressed guilt, helplessness and stress when dealing with the situation, not unlike the experiences of local caregivers. However, distance caregivers also mentioned the additional burdens of worrying about whether they could arrive in time during a crisis, the uncertainty as to the best times to arrange a visit, the challenges presented by having to rely on secondhand information and the difficulties sometimes in staying connected with the parent.

To support those on the front lines, far-flung siblings should ask directly how they can help.

Siblings who are at a distance can call home at least once a week if the parent feels like talking or send something small through the mail, such as a news article or cartoon, to demonstrate thoughtfulness. Technology, such as Skype and FaceTime, can also help with connectivity in real time. To support those on the front lines, far-flung siblings should ask directly how they can help. They can also consider arranging for meals to be sent, pay for services or offer to take care of their caregiving responsibilities when visiting to provide temporary relief.