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Facing the challenges of long-distance caregiving

long distance caregiving means long hours on the road to provide care and support

When you suddenly find yourself in a long-distance caregiving situation, you realize how much every mile of separation means. Every time I made that trip from Georgia to New Mexico as my parents’ health declined, I was reminded of the consequences of living so far apart.

My experience is not unusual; younger generations are more likely to be on the move and stray farther from their roots than their predecessors. The global economy and a competitive job market account for some of the trend, as does technology, which allows us to stay in touch with our loved ones from afar much easier than we could in the past.

So how do we address the distance gap? Here’s what would have helped my family caregiving situation.

Better communication

I wish I had been more involved in my parents’ retirement plans. When they chose the small mountain resort town of Ruidoso, New Mexico, I thought it was somewhat of an odd choice, but lacked the foresight to think about the complications the location would pose as my parents aged. Born and raised in California, I went to college in Texas but was eager to explore post-college life in a big city, so I moved to Atlanta. My parents were eager to escape the high cost of living and joined a quarter of older Americans, who live in a small town or rural area, according to an Aging Today report.

It’s important for people in their 20s and 30s to stay in the loop with their parents’ retirement plans. In today’s economy, retirement isn’t always guaranteed, but older people often decide to downsize and move somewhere more affordable. My parents left the ample resources of a suburban community to move to a small town which offered a lower cost of living, but also offered limited healthcare resources.

Location became a major factor as my father developed Alzheimer’s and there were no local care centers equipped to handle dementia cases. Shortly after my father’s death, my mother fell ill, and by the time the small-town doctors figured it out, she required emergency surgery. What followed was a months-long recovery that required me to quit my job in Atlanta and move temporarily to New Mexico to care for her.

In hindsight, I would have encouraged my parents to move to an affordable suburb of a major city, which would have offered access to better healthcare options, and would have been easier for me to travel to more frequently.

A backup plan

My parents didn’t have a backup plan if things didn’t work out in Ruidoso. My father’s family was in Northern Ireland and my mother’s family was in Tennessee, and both sides were thinning as relatives died. They knew no one in New Mexico, nor did they have any strong connections back out in California. If I could go back in time, I would have better researched assisted living communities in the metro Atlanta area, though I’m not convinced my parents would have been willing to make the big move. But the lack of a plan when their health began to decline left us with few options.

Greater support

Here’s what would have been on my wish list as a long-distance caregiver:

What are your biggest needs as a long-distance caregiver?
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