Working with caregivers and families of elders, its a question I hear frequently: "Dad is in a nursing home 50 miles away. How can I be there for him?" or "Mom's assisted living community is in another state. We can't visit often. How can the family make sure she's OK?"
If your parent lives in a senior community that is located far away from where you live, you likely experience guilt because you feel you aren't there for your parent enough. This is common for long-distance caregivers. The key is to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation, do your best, and don't blame yourself for not being there.
Long Distance Caregiving Guilt
Visit as often as you can, whether its once a month, or once a year. If you can't visit frequently, find other family members or close friends who might be willing to occasionally make the trip. The responsibility can't be on your shoulders alone.
When guilt creeps in that you haven't visited lately, remember this: What your parent needs most from visits is quality, not quantity.
If you can only visit once a month, for example, then plan your visit to do some activities. Bring old pictures from the past to talk about and help remember the good times (Even if your parent has Alzheimer's disease, they often remember the distant past much better than they remember recent events.)
Whatever your parent's hobbies were in the past, bring memorabilia in some form. For example, if dad loved to play football, bring a soft football for him to hold, watch part of a football game together, bring old pictures from his football days, etc. If mom enjoyed gardening, bring a potted plant that she can care for.
When visiting your parent, you may feel that there is just too much to do in the time that you have. You can get more done and feel less stressed by talking to your parent ahead of time and finding out what he or she would like to do. A visit does not need to be long and verbal the whole time. Quality is more important.
Also, pencil in some time to talk to the staff. They should be communicating with you even when you aren't in town, but take advantage of the face time to get a progress report on your parent's health, eating habits, socialization, changes in personality, etc.
Even when visiting isn't possible, there are many ways to keep in touch with your parent. Phone calls and letters are an option, and the world of technology has opened up many other ways to keep in touch from afar, including email, or even Skype if its available at the senior community where they live. Expecting a call from a loved one,or knowing there will be an email waiting is often enough to lift a senior's spirits, and can provide the caregiver some insights into the elder's well-being.