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Minding Our Elders: Resources available for long-distance caregivers

Carol Bradley Bursack

DEAR CAROL: My husband’s parents moved to a warmer climate 12 years ago.

My father-in-law had a minor heart attack a few months back and my mother-in-law has developed severe arthritis. We’ve tried to convince them that it’s time to move back to our community so we can offer more help, but they say they are used to their adoptive home and don’t want to move. They still have friends and enjoy activities.

My husband and I both have jobs and teenagers in school so we can’t move even if we wanted to. How do we handle the growing needs of his parents?

– Mary Ann

DEAR MARY ANN: It’s hard to live far away when your elders’ health begins to decline, yet it’s up to them to choose where they live. Unless they’re in complete denial, they know there is risk involved as they age and that some plans for assistance will be needed. With time they may be more open to suggestions from the family.

You and your husband could begin to educate yourselves by downloading or ordering the free booklet from the Administration on Aging titled “So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers About Long Distance Caregiving.” The website is

publication. The AoA also supports the Eldercare Locator, accessible at This site will help you find resources by typing in your in-law’s Zip code.

Other local resources can be found on their state website. Simply type the name of their state into your Internet browser along with “aging.” Your search should pull up helpful links to direct you to state and community resources.

One option that can be costly but helpful is a geriatric care manager in your in-laws’ community. Geriatric care managers are often social workers or nurses who have used their knowledge to branch out on their own. The care manager should be well acquainted with resources available locally. Some care managers will work directly with the elders, even managing medications, while others will research and provide suggestions for local help. Many will provide oversight but not be involved with hands-on care.

I hope that your husband’s parents have appointed him or another trusted person Power Of Attorney for financial purposes. They also need someone to be their health care proxy in a health emergency so they need a health directive or Power Of Attorney for health care. They may want to appoint a trusted person locally to share this responsibility since your husband may not be available in an emergency.

Make sure that your in-laws know that your husband and you are there to help them when needed and that you want to be kept informed about their health. If your husband’s parents are computer savvy, Skype or another video calling service can be fun. You’d likely get a better idea of how they are doing if you can see them, even if it’s just online.

Good luck with your long-distance caregiving. Remember that this is a choice that his parents have made. Do your best to care for them from a distance, but understand that you can’t provide the oversight that you could if they chose to live in your community. Do your best to help, but respect their decision. Things may change in the future, but this is how they want to live for the time being.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at She can be reached at