Help aging parents stay healthy when you live far apart

As our parents age, many of us are concerned about their day-to-day health. What do you do when your aging parents live far away from you?

As we age, health concerns become more of a priority than when we are in our prime health years. Aging brings more concern about developing chronic diseases, higher blood pressure and increased blood glucose and cholesterol. Often as we age, we see a decrease in physical activity and healthy food choices.

Not only are we concerned about these changes for ourselves, but if we have aging parents or other relatives we might be responsible for, we are concerned about health changes for them. What if your aging loved ones do not live near you, but far away? What can you do to insure that they enter their senior years in the best health possible?

According to a publication from the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), there are several steps that you can take:

  • Be aware of all health conditions your loved one has: do they have diabetes or pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hormonal imbalances or other chronic conditions. If they have not shared this information with you, approach the conversation with patience and as a sign of your loving concern. Many older people feel this is private information and may not want to share it with you.
  • Ask them how they are managing their medical condition. Are they taking medication, on a restricted diet, physical activity or therapy? Do they need help managing their condition and would they like any support. If so what would be helpful—phone calls, periodic visits or something else?
  • Discuss their ability to self-care: do they need help with everyday activities such as personal care, cleaning or shopping?
  • Ask for a list of all medications the person currently takes including dosage size and frequency. It’s also helpful to know the pharmacy where they get their prescriptions. If they use more than one pharmacy, encourage them to get all prescriptions at the same place.
  • Assist with medical contacts: have the names, addresses and phone numbers of all physicians treating them from their primary caregiver to any specialists they may see. With their permission, have one family member given consent to talk to their doctors about their care.

Once you have all of this information, keep it in one place so that you have easy access to it. Arrange for periodic visits to physically check on your loved one. Conditions can rapidly change and they may not be willing to share this information to avoid putting a burden on you. This could be another discussion between you and your loved one. How often would they like to see you and what seems reasonable considering their health and age?

Senior years can be a time of great enjoyment and opportunity. These years can also be a time of decreasing health. Planning now can help take the uncertainty and panic out of any unexpected medical crisis.

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