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Adult child with snowbird parents worries about their long-distance care

"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack says distance makes keeping track of your parents' health harder, but barring dementia, they get to choose where they live.

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Carol Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
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Dear Carol: After my parents retired, they moved south to enjoy the year-round heat. Dad’s since had a heart bypass and Mom had a hip replacement, but otherwise, they seem well enough. Still, these are red flags. We’ve tried to convince them to move back home, but they say they are home. They take care of each other now, but with worsening health, or when one of them passes, things will need to change. How do we prepare for that time? — PF.

Dear PF: Distance makes keeping track of your parents’ health harder, but barring dementia, they get to choose where they live. Remember that they likely understand that eventually, they’ll need assistance.

Before discussing your worries with them, put yourself in their place. They have friends, activities, a whole lifestyle based on where they live. They care for themselves and each other. So, consider their present satisfaction before resurrecting your request that they move back to your community.

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The first step: Your parents may already have power of attorney documents for health and finances, but check with them to see who is assigned responsibility if neither of them is well.

Something to offer your parents: Leslie Kernisan is a geriatrician with a free website that I recommend to adults over 60. This website could help your parents stay healthier longer, something that’s in everyone’s interest. The site is www.betterhealthwhileaging.net.


For you: I nearly always recommend two books that are packed with information about how to approach your parents about legal documents, as well as what to watch for as health challenges arise.

The first book is by Dr. Kernisan and is titled, “When Your Aging Parent Needs Help: A Geriatrician's Step-by-Step Guide to Memory Loss, Resistance, Safety Worries, & More.” I reviewed the book in my column, “ Book offers a practical roadmap for helping older parents .” This book is packed with cheat lists for ease of use and offers downloadable checklists and worksheets. (Full disclosure: I moderate a support group for Dr. Kernisan).

The second book is by Linda Fodrini-Johnson and is titled “The Empowered Caregiver: Practical Advice and Emotional Support for Adult Children of Aging Parents.” This book will give you a window into the services a geriatric care manager (GCM) can provide. Read my review in “ Geriatric care manager shares decades of experience in new book .”

Free resources for the future

The Eldercare Locator: You can educate yourself and your parents if all of you learn to use this government site. After typing in your parents’ ZIP code, a list of services available in their state will unfold. Check it out now and bookmark it since you will want to use it later; https://eldercare.acl.gov


Your proactive mindset will pay off, PF. The difference between what you could do for them if you just stopped over versus having to fly down in an emergency is obvious. Yet, most of what you need to do now is not that different from what you’d be doing if they lived locally.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblog.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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