When you are not the primary caregiver, it is common to feel guilty when you live far away and are unable to do your share.
It's good to go for visits, but try not to make up for your absence with a whirlwind of activities and suggestions. On the one hand, your objectivity may bring a valuable perspective. But more often, the primary caregiver will feel criticized and resentful. What starts out as good intentions on your part can end up in family conflict and more stress for the primary caregiver. Plus, your loved one may also sense the conflict and be upset by it.
Unless you genuinely suspect that the situation involves abuse or neglect, it is usually wise to trust that the primary caregiver knows what is needed at any given time. At the very least, they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. And since they are there more frequently, they probably understand more about the range of issues than you can take in during a short visit of a few days. Because the primary caregiver is the one who is involved day-to-day, the best way to help your loved one is to support the caregiver in doing what they think is best.
Here are some tips from caregivers and professionals who have dealt with families who live across long distances:
Stay in touch.Caregivers appreciate hearing from supportive family and friends. Click here to learn how our free Family Ties care management tool can help. It can be very frustrating and isolating to care for a person with dementia. Allow the primary caregiver to let off steam.
Handle things that can be done over the phone. For instance, you can clarify Medicare coverage, research needed medical equipment, or talk with legal or financial professionals.
Help the caregiver to take breaks. Caring for a person with memory problems can be exhausting. It is essential that the primary caregiver be allowed and encouraged to maintain other interests and friendships outside of caregiving.
Offer to pay for or hire help. Little chores can add up to an exhausting day. Hire someone to come in and mow the lawn or clean the house. If you are unable to help out yourself, hiring help for the primary caregiver is the next best thing.
Learn about the disease and the experience of caregiving. Attend a caregiver support group meeting in your area, or join our on-line caregiver community. This will also help you provide insightful advice when asked and to be watchful for warning signs that the caregiver is getting overwhelmed.
Avoid criticizing. Unless you believe there is actual harm being done, criticism is not usually helpful. If you do believe that your care receiver is being abused or neglected, however, definitely seek help. Talk to a social worker or the Area Agency on Aging in your own region to see if the problem that concerns you is the type of thing they would worry about.