Long Distance Caregiving

Last updated: October 10, 2009

How can I get my sister to help care for Mom? I'm the oldest and single, and I became the main caregiver since both folks were hospitalized at the same time about five years ago. I coordinate home healthcare, bookkeeping, medicines, nurse visits, home repairs, pet care, and so on. But I live 800 miles away. Since Dad died last year, I've been flying there every month. Luckily, Mom has someone come in to help her every day.

My sister, meanwhile, lives 30 minutes from our parents. She works full-time in a nursing home as an aide. She's poor and has two kids. Her husband has had a lot of problems, and she supports them all. I used to help them with money but can't anymore. She visits my mom maybe once a month. I've gone broke helping my folks, flying back and forth, and missing work. My mom now has to pay for my travel expenses, but she doesn't have that much money. Still, today Mom bought my sister a new car so her grandkids will be safe. I guess that's why I'm writing. This situation is sick.

Don't let sibling fights distract you from the bigger issue: how to manage your mom's care and care for yourself at the same time. Sadly, sometimes we have to act like we don't have siblings when it comes to caregiving. We don't have to hate or resent them (although it can be hard not to), but we also don't have to keep fighting with them and hoping they'll pitch in when realistically, they may never choose to participate.

If you haven't had an honest talk with your sister, it's time. It may not change the situation, but you'll feel better for sharing what you've bottled up. Tell her "Mom needs our help." (That way, it's not all about you.) Ask her what she can do on a consistent basis, if not financially then in other ways. Get her to be specific -- even one or two items a month could alleviate some of your stress.

Does your sister see this situation in a totally different way? Probably. Her life sounds far from perfect. She may have her own issues with you or with your Mom. Avoid sounding accusatory, which will only make her defensive. Encourage her to say her piece -- and really listen. Try to understand that your mom loves and needs both of you, even if you're doing most of the work.

As much as our elders want to live independently, how "independent" is it when it takes a village to keep their life going? I advocate family care, and I lived it. I pieced my mom's care together with the wonderful assistance of her church, her neighbors, and community resources -- but at a certain point, everyone was drained and my mom wasn't getting all she needed. I've seen too many families sacrifice too much because one person wants her life not to change.

Life does change, and we all have to adapt.

Most likely, you're going to continue to be your mom's primary caregiver, and being proactive about your options will help you make the responsibility more manageable.

Could your mom move in with you? How about you moving near her? I know either would disrupt your life, but it's already disrupted. If she needs this much care, then you have to do some brainstorming and consider various solutions.

Another option is a [geriatric care manager in your mother's area] (https://www.caring.com/local) -- a person who pretty much does what you're doing by overseeing the various types of care your mom needs. It's easier to have one person who can coordinate everything than to try to manage 20 people. And it might not cost more than what you're paying in transportation costs.

It may be time, or there may come a time, to consider a care home. A small group home or assisted living may be a good fit. You might not be ready for this yet, but you're certainly at a point where you need to look at all your options. If your mom's care needs were to increase, you would have already had this option researched. Quick decisions made in a crisis are seldom the best ones.

Initiating change is always the hardest. You can't let things remain as they are, because you're setting yourself up for a major burnout. You could lose your health, your relationships, and your career by allowing things to continue as is. Place your needs high on the list. Don't be surprised if you get some guff about any changes -- that may be the perfect time to share with your sister (again) how much you want and need her to be involved with mom's care. You can't force her to change, but you can kindly ask.

Encourage your mom, too, to view any changes as a new adventure. Reassure her that she'll be well cared for but that you need to care for yourself, too. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "Folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Make the best decision you can, and then find ways to feel good about what happens. Any time we take action, we feel empowered. Your mom's life and yours could both change for the better.

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7 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

Anonymous said about 1 year ago

My husband is in a similiar position, he being the nearest is the one relied on to do everything. To add to his problems he is full time career to me, my disability is getting worse and I try to help him as much as i can. His sister might as well be in a different country for all she cares or visits. thats her choice, my worry is my husband not her. He is turning to alcohol to help his anxiety, his ocd is getting worse and he sits all night drinking or sitting doing his ocd things. This weekend he blew up twice (one time was 5 in the morning) and last night he wet the bed again! so he is sleeping it off. He says he has no problems, his mum will not socialise or do anything for herself and she will need more surgery and its down to us again -and when we do help she is not happy with what we've done! grrrrr

over 1 year ago

I don't think companies should be allowed to advertise their services in the comments section. That is usually deleted from comments sections in most blogs, etc.. I frequent. Why is that allowed on here?

almost 2 years ago

I was my Mom's primary caregiver. I stopped asking my brother and his family (he's local) to do anything to help as he as always running to his boat for the weekend, going on vacation, etc. I got very bitter so I simply stopped asking. If I didn't ask, I didn't have to hear he couldn't do it because he was 'busy.' Now that my Mom is gone, I'm sorry that he missed some of the best times with her. Only my friends and me (and my brother who flew in for the last month from 3000 miles away to help..) could understand how precious those last moments were.

Anonymous said over 2 years ago

Hi I take care of my elderly mom 24-7 now she has had a stroke in Jan got most of it back then because of the stroke her brain was is a very agry state put her in hospital they got that better and then suffered a heart attack 3 weeks ago. I am one of 5kids trying to do it all I cant seem to get everyone on board about helping alot have excuses after excuse of why they can't. I am on my 10th day and am just mentally drained mom also had demencia which is worse from the stroke. I am trying to get help from state but nothing yet. I have a daughter getting married soon that I haven't been able to be a part of because of all this. I'm angry and hurt that most of the siblings want to throw her somewhere so they dont have to help. My mom has told me if she goes into a home she will kill herself she hates it so much. I have been living with her and I might get her to my house once a week and I have my own husband and dogs. I have prayed about this and also have been prayed for at my church but I do feel my spirit is fading because its none stop I work 16hr days 7 days a week and am just tired. I have to give mom insulin check sugar shes on 17 different meds, cant shower herself or do anything at this point. Any advice on how to get me time to rejuvinate myself and my spirit.

Anonymous said almost 5 years ago

Perhaps you and your sister could split responsibilities. She could take care of things where her location is an asset and you could take care of things in which geography is not an issue. Then mom wouldn't have to pay for your travel quite as often. You also might talk to a social worker. There are also non-profit organizations for seniors or call your mom's town's dept of mental health. Between the 3 organizations, there should be resources available for pet care, transportation to doctors appts, light housekeeping, etc. to lighten your sister's load.

about 5 years ago

another great option is Home Instead. I don't advocate your sisters behavior but I can understand it. After a full day in a nursing home then dealing with a limited spouse the last thing I wanted to do was do more caregiving!

about 5 years ago

Great post Carol, Have you considered and in-home care company. This might be a more cost effective and local solution that could get to your mom on a regular basis. I would recommend Right at Home, we are a nationwide network of caregivers with background checks and training. If you want to learn more, check out our blog at www.rightathome.net/seniorhomecare. Best, Bill

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