How to care for your aging parents when you don’t live nearby

March 18, 2014 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn

Making sure that your parents are getting the healthcare and support they need as they get older can be a tough job. But living at a distance from your parents makes that tough job even more complex. When you don’t see your parents regularly, it can be harder to tell if something is amiss. They may sound fine on the phone, but what can you do to be sure they’re healthy and safe?

There are a number of steps you can take, including enlisting the help of an advocate located near your parents’ home, to ensure your parents health and social support needs are met. The best plan is to start talking with your parents about these issues before there’s a crisis situation.

Start by visiting to get a first-hand understanding of the situation.

  • Arrange to visit for several days to a week so you have the chance to see how your parents fare with day-to-day activities like cooking, shopping, filling prescriptions and taking medications, driving and financial tasks like paying bills.
  • If possible and if your parents are amenable, visit their primary care doctor with them and have them add you to the list of people with whom medical information can be shared and provide your number as an emergency contact. Have the doctor provide a list of your parents’ current diagnoses, medications, any allergies and a copy of their health history.
  • Check their home to make sure it’s safe.

Gather key information and contacts.

  • Get phone numbers for your parents’ neighbors and friends and share your number so they can contact you if they notice potential problems or if there’s an emergency. It can also be helpful to share your number with someone at their place of worship.
  • Compile a list of contact information for all their physicians and their pharmacy.
  • Find out contact information for their financial advisors and legal counsel, if they have them.
  • Ask your parents to share where they keep their financial and legal information including wills, power of attorney and advance directive documents, retirement and investment accounts, bank and credit card accounts, information about loans, titles to property and vehicles, insurance information and safety deposit boxes.

Make a plan with siblings and other family members.

  • Caring for your parents can be a very intense and time-consuming job. If you have siblings or other family members, talk with them and ask for help checking in on your parents and handling tasks like touching base with physicians and other caregivers.
  • Consider working with a geriatric care manager or personal health advisor located near your parents. A manager or advisor can coordinate care, make sure health records are up-to-date and shared with the appropriate physicians, check to avoid medication interactions and errors, and ensure follow-up appointments and tests occur in a timely manner. Many are also available to attend appointments with your parents to serve as a “second set of ears”, provide information about treatment options for any health issues your parents face, and arrange second opinions.

While your goal is to help your parents be as healthy as possible as they grow older, remember that the stress of caregiving can affect your health as well. Make sure you get regular preventive care and screenings, work to manage stress, eat a healthy diet and make time for exercise.