"When Mother first became ill, I took a leave of absence from work, thinking that in a few weeks she'd be back to normal. That was two-and-a-half years ago. She's been going steadily downhill since. It hurts me so much to leave her in South Carolina, but I have to work and she refuses to move to Washington. My phone bills are extremely high, and I'm beginning to have problems with my blood pressure - the doctor says it's nerves."

So begins the introduction to "Miles Away and Still Caring," a guide prepared by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for long-distance caregivers.Because Americans have become so mobile, virtually thousands of families at some time have to deal with the problems of trying to coordinate care for people they love while living their own lives far away.

The free guide offers suggestions on how to make the most of limited visits. It also contains a care management worksheet and tips on how to identify and use existing programs, both formal and informal.

Family and friends are a key part of the informal support network, according to the AARP. But they are only valuable if you can tell them what needs to be done and coordinate the assistance. For example, arranging for a relative to do some light shopping once a week can take a huge burden off your shoulders. A friend might be persuaded to stop in three or four times a month to do light housework.

A list of formal resources, including each state's Division of Aging, is listed, along with the address and phone number. By contacting the agency, arrangements may be made for a variety of services that can make home a safe and productive place for an elderly person to remain.

Finally, the caregiver must remember to take care of himself. Shauna O'Neil, director of Salt Lake County Aging Services, told the Deseret News it is not uncommon for a caregiver to become so inundated by stress that he or she becomes ill. The so-called sandwich generation - those taking care of elderly parents and raising families of their own - can fall victim to a variety of illnesses or more serious problems, like heart attacks.

The same strains wear on long-distance caregivers, who also face the added burden of guilt because they are not right there to provide care.

For a free copy of "Miles Away and Still Caring," write to the AARP, 1909 K St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049.