Rural Caregiving - Is It Worth The Risks?

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Rural Caregiving — Is It Worth The Risks?

Jayme Kinsey

Summary: Caregivers in rural areas face unique challenges in their daily lives. Here are some reasons they may want to consider residential care as early as possible for the safety of their loved ones.

Author: Jayme Kinsey exclusively for Assisted Living Directory. Jayme is a freelance writer with over ten years experience caring for the elderly and mentally disabled adults..

Jayme is a frequent contributor to Assisted Living Directory

Rural Caregiving and the risks for seniors

If you search the internet for any questions pertaining to caregiving, you are likely to see the same advice being repeated. If your problem is socializing an elder, you are advised to get them involved in local activities. If your issue is with caregiver burnout, they will advise taking advantage of the Rural Caregiving and the risks for seniorsnearest adult day care facility or respite care service. For ambulatory issues or speech problems, you are told to take advantage of special classes designed to assist your elder.

That advice is logical and useful for people who live in an area where these services are readily available. However, rural caregivers will probably have no access to programs or services such as these within a reasonable distance from their homes. In fact, just seeing how their remote location is disadvantaged in providing a wealth of resources for their elder may only add to the caregiver’s stress and guilt.

Even when resources are within a reasonable driving distance, their may be an issue with transportation.

*This article by Liz Berger cites that as many as 57% of rural residents do not own a car. 40% or more may live in areas with no public transportation.

This is a serious situation that needs to be addressed. As a rural caregiver, you want to provide your loved one with the best care you are able to give. For many, their only link to the outside world as far as helping their elder may be either the doctor or home health services. These are limited and really do not address the problems of rural caregiving.

There are situations that a rural caregiver faces that are unique to the location. Many times, rural areas are poorer than urban areas. According to, 11% of rural caregivers make $15,000 or less annually. Therefore, it is easy to see why more seniors are cared for by family caregivers than by assisted living facilities.

Rural caregivers also face extremes in weather that may not allow them to travel even short distances until conditions change. Unsafe weather conditions can make country roads inaccessible by ambulances too.

Culture and tradition in some isolated areas may discourage outside help from strangers. Turning to the internet for answers may not be an option either.

Also, the more remote the area, the less likely that the nearest doctor will be specialized in geriatric care. In fact, your loved one is likely to be one of hundreds of patients seen by a clinic or a general practitioner. This is fine for everyday complaints, but these doctors may not have the knowledge or experience to recognize aspects of certain age-related disorders. Nor will they be able to educate caregivers on these matters.

All of these things can seriously endanger the life and health of a senior. Without convenient access to qualified doctors, respite care services, counseling services or the internet, 78% of rural caregivers depend solely on prayer and other spiritual guidance for solving medical and caregiving problems.

What You Should Know as a Rural Caregiver:

Being a rural caregiver requires you to plan differently from your urban counterparts. For you, it is imperative to plan ahead a lot further in advance. Rural areas have limited access to quality nursing facilities for the elderly and many have a waiting list. You will need time to visit the facility more than once. Ask around to find out if people you know have had relatives in the facility and if they were satisfied with their services.

As much as you may hate to admit it, the rural caregiver should not wait as long to enroll a loved one into an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. You must be honest about the frailty of your elder, your own abilities and your financial limitations.

It’s a difficult choice but the last thing you would wish for your loved one is a broken hip in the middle of an ice storm with no way to transport. Likewise, you don’t want your parent’s life placed at risk due to precious time waiting for emergency responders during a life-threatening event.

The first step families in rural areas should consider taking is to locate the nearest doctor who specializes in geriatric care. By consulting with a professional, they may be able to gain insight into the timeline of their loved one’s conditions, and plan for future care accordingly.

For example, seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia may need care that is progressively more demanding. For a rural family, this means that one person may have to quit their job to stay home full time. It can also mean more long distance trips to doctor’s and hospitals.

Weighing the Benefits Against the Risks

Is caregiving worth the risks in a rural area? Only the individual caregiver can answer that question. It depends on many factors, such as:

  • The financial status of the household
  • The health of the care recipient
  • Availability of medical resources
  • Reliability of transportation
  • Whether or not the caregivers are employed full-time
  • Physical capabilities of the caregivers
  • How fast emergency response teams can arrive even in bad weather

In an ideal situation, caring for a loved one’s needs at home has many benefits for both those providing the care and the person receiving it. However, when the best care cannot be provided in the home environment, it may be in everyone’s best interest to consider a direct transition to residential care sooner rather than later.

Copyright © 2014 by Jayme Kinsey

Additional Information:

Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)

Rural Caregivers : Resources by State/Region

Recommended Reading:

Article by Jayme Kinsey exclusively for Assisted Living Directory

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