"Maybe if they can't provide hands-on care, they could contribute by sending meals once a week, to empower them to feel part of the care, to seek out the health care team, to get information about what's going on and to feel a little more connected," Mazanec said.
Social workers can often provide a list of local resources.
Ahmed advises long-distance family members to visit as often as they can and if family and financial obligations prevent that, to have someone -- maybe a neighbor -- check on their parent at least once a week to provide updates.
Although this study looked only at caregivers of cancer patients, Mazanec feels much of the information gleaned here would be useful for caregivers in all kinds of situations.
"Information is power, and knowing what's happening helps people feel [they have] a little more control over something they have little control over," Mazanec said. "Although physical hands-on caregiving is very exhausting, emotional caregiving is actually more distressing than the physical. There are ways to feel less guilty and like you're contributing."
The National Institute on Aging has more on long-distance caregiving.
SOURCES: Polly Mazanec, Ph.D., ACNP, assistant professor, nursing, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University, and advance practice oncology nurse, University Hospital's Case Medical Center's Seidman Cancer Center, Cleveland; Nasiya Ahmed, M.D., assistant professor, geriatric and palliative medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; May 2011 Oncology Nursing Forum
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