How can you help your child be healthier at college?

September 3, 2015 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn
Keep college students healthy

Whether you’re sending your child to college for the first time or you’re a veteran college parent, you probably have some questions about what you and your children can do to help them stay healthier while they’re away from home. Discussing these strategies with your children and their physician is a good first step.

Get a health support system in place

Your children have a doctor you rely on when they’re at home and you most likely know which area hospital you’d choose if your child needed emergency care, but that’s not the case when they move to a new area. Especially if your child has a chronic health problem like asthma or celiac disease or is being treated for a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, you’ll want to research physicians and medical centers near the college or university. You can check for doctors and hospitals in your health plan, though that doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of care provided, or ask the college health center for recommendations.

Another option is to work with a personal health advisor who can help you get connected to experienced physicians and can provide them with your child’s complete universal electronic medical record. That medical record and an advisor’s support can be especially important if your child becomes seriously ill or is injured, as was the case for one of our members. His son, who attended college across the country, was hit by a car while biking. Our team contacted the ED and alerted the treating physician to check for damage to his spleen since the member’s son had recently had mononucleosis and an enlarged spleen. We also provided the family with information about the different treatment options for his injuries so that they could make an informed decision.

Manage stress and sleep

The college workload and being in a new environment where they need to build a new social network can be stressful. Talk to your children about how they can monitor their stress levels and help them develop healthy strategies for managing stress. You don’t want them to ignore their stress, try to drown their sorrows with alcohol or drugs, or other unhealthy choices. Share what helps you manage stress, whether that’s going for a run or to the gym, taking time out to listen to music, practicing yoga, or talking with an understanding friend and ask them what types of stress relievers they think would work for them. And while you don’t want to hover, try to talk with your children every week or so and check for changes in mood that could indicate they’re having trouble managing stress.

According to some studies, only 11 percent of college students have good sleep quality. When your children don’t get enough sleep, they’re more susceptible to getting sick and it can increase their risk of depression. It can also have a negative impact on their ability to concentrate in class and on their work and impair their decision making. Here are a few strategies that may help them get the sleep they need:

  • Putting away their phone, laptop, and other electronic devices 30 minutes before bed
  • Avoiding caffeine after 3:00 p.m.
  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule by only sleeping an hour later than their weekday wake-up time on weekends

Protect against infectious diseases

Before your children leave for college, make sure they are up-to-date with all their immunizations, including vaccines to protect against:

  • Tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough
  • Flu
  • HPV
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Hepatitis A and B

Dorm living makes it easier for infectious diseases to spread quickly, so encourage your children to follow basic prevention steps such as frequent handwashing, not sharing drinks, staying home from class when they’re sick, and making sure to see a doctor if their symptoms don’t clear up in a timely manner or get worse.

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