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Long Distance or Next Door: Considering Care for your Senior Parent

Caring for a senior parent can present many challenges for adult children. With expanding responsibilities to an aging parent, adult children still have to find time to handle their regular responsibilities which can include their own children, careers and managing other day-to-day tasks. These newfound responsibilities can be even more challenging if there is a significant distance between the adult child and the senior parent, which can create high levels of stress and worry for all parties involved. The benefit of living in close proximity to an aging parent allows adult children to notice subtle changes in a dependent parent but Michele Stokes, OhioHealth Neuroscience System Program Director, understands just how complicated caring from afar can be for an adult child.

Adult daughter and mother smiling and hugging outdoor on porch

Near vs. Far

“Adult children in town often see and recognize different issues than those who are out-of-town”, says Stokes. “For example, mom can rise to the occasion and may seem sharp on the phone or during a brief visit, and may give the impression she is doing ok; however, local daughter stopping in every day or so can see that mom is not able to organize or take her pills correctly, is wearing the same, dirty clothing over and over, repeats herself, and is not eating as she should.”

Adult son and father smiling and hugging outdoor in a field

When to Take Action

Not having the ability to regularly check-in on a parent can be especially difficult for those that may not have a sibling or other trustworthy person to keep a watchful eye on a senior. That makes extended visits to a senior parent even more important and underscores the need for adult children to be aware of the signs that their parent may no longer be able to live independently. According to Stokes, those signs include parents neglecting to take care of or forgetting important needs such as taking medications and paying bills, decreased ability to manage daily activities such as dressing or bathing and signs they are no longer driving safely, which are evidenced by dents and scratches on their vehicle.

Senior parent and adult child talking to a healthcare provider together

How to Take Action

Once it becomes clear that a senior parent needs assistance, it’s critically important for adult children to put a plan in place to handle their care. Even if distance is a factor, Stokes says that providing quality care is still possible for older loved ones. Children may need to travel to visit their parent more frequently than normal, but various agencies are able to assist with the all-important day to day care.

“Visiting is the most helpful way to truly know what is needed, missing, or concerning. Many checklists for what to look for in the home and with the person can be found online,” says Stokes. “For those who don’t or can’t visit, various agencies can assist with needs assessments and/or provision of care.”

Resources such as area agencies on aging are available in every state and can help long-distance children find cost-effective means of providing care for parents and equip local caregivers with the tools needed to provide quality day-to-day care. Although many challenges will be present for providing care regardless of distance, Stokes believes that figuring out caregiving arrangements before parents lose the ability to make important decisions can save adult children and families some heartache in the future.“

“Try to have conversations about future possible needs long before things change. This can be a hard conversation to broach and may not be received well, but it’s better to discuss wishes, plans, and options early on and to plan ahead based on your loved one’s preferences.”

Not sure where to start? OhioHealth’s John J. Gerlach Center for Senior Health is a great resource for finding help for seniors in central Ohio communities.


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