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The stress of caring for someone far away

Worrying about a loved one who lives far away can be fatiguing and stressful. But when you are the one left with the responsibility for the care of your elderly mother, father, aunt, uncle or grandparents who live in another state, it can become overwhelming.

Caregiving, in general, has so many elements — medical information, financial issues, placement options, needs and expectations (yours and theirs) — that doing this long-distance seems impossible.

Due to many of our families living far apart, it has become a very common occurrence: the long-distance caregiver. They are faced with arranging travel on a moment’s notice, negotiating time off from work, and once there, trying to catch up on what exactly happened. Then there are decisions to be made. Who makes these? What information do you need to help make these decisions? And does your loved one even want your input? Never mind that you just traveled 1,000 miles to get there.

There is no formula to follow in these situations. Your loved one’s care needs and resources will hopefully guide you in a certain direction. If your loved one needs a lot of care, and the resources are not available in their home, they may need to be moved. And if they do, do you move them somewhere in their hometown or do you bring them 1,000 miles to be near you?

I know, I know: a lot more questions than answers here in this column. But the decisions that need to be made are unique to each situation. Expectations and emotions also play a role here: yours, theirs and others. Gracefully accepting dependency can be one of the hardest transitions that older people go through. But also, realizing that your loved one can no longer function independently can be equally devastating for you.

I do think that some of the hardest decisions in caregiving come when there is very little choice in the matter. A lack of funds, being medically frail, and a lack of appropriate caregiving resources often make the decision for us. In these instances, getting as much information about what to do is critical.

If you are making decisions and your loved one is in a hospital or rehab center, then there is usually a social worker lurking about and can be very helpful here. If not, then there are Senior Information and Assistance agencies all over the United States. The best way to find out about them is to call our local number for Senior Information and Assistance, (206) 448-3110, and ask for the “like” agency in the county and state that your loved one is in.

I am available to discuss your issues and do my best to guide you on what to do and what to expect.

Get help here

Betsy Zuber, geriatric specialist, has been working in the field of aging for 19 years. She provides social services to people age 55+ and their families who live on Mercer Island.

Contact her at (206) 275-7752, e-mail betsy.zuber@mercergov.org or mail MIYFS, 2040 84th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, Wash., 98040. Mercer Island Youth & Family Services is a department of the City of Mercer Island.

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