As advances in medicine are continually prolonging our life spans, the chances of developing one of endless health problems tends to become a stronger possibility. Because while we may be living longer, but not necessarily healthier. As our parents age, we naturally feel a responsibility towards providing them care, whether it’s helping them get the best health care plan, actually caregiving ourselves, or making the proper arrangements to have someone else handle it.

If your parent’s health is starting to decline and you live abroad, you probably know how stressful it can be to deal with this situation.  You cannot take an active part in many aspects of the care, and trying to coordinate it across multiple time zones is challenging to say the least. We know first hand how difficult it can be to arrange for care, estate planning and funeral arrangements from halfway across the world…and it’s definitely not easy. Here are just a few tips to help you manage this difficult responsibility.

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

Assume Care Will Be Required If It Isn’t Already

If your current situation involves relatively healthy and independent parents who do not yet require any sort of extensive care, it can be tempting to convince yourself that it will always be this way. While it is our hope that our parents will be one of those spry elderly people who are fit and active until their late 90’s, and then peacefully pass away in their sleep one day, never having suffered the scourges of old age… this is a scenario limited to a small minority.

It might not be pleasant to think about, but you must prepare for the fact that your parents will most likely need some sort of care down the line. Start thinking about how you would handle this, especially if you are halfway across the world. Start researching options and thinking about to whom you can reach out and what services in the area are available to assist them. Will there be a waiting list? Is there a lot of moving involved? And how will all the required steps take place?


Discuss Wishes While Your Parents are Still Well

The topic of illness, loss of independence and the potential horrors that may await your parents as they age is certainly not a pleasant topic for them or you. But, as uncomfortable as it may be, these topics must be discussed. It’s important to find out now before something happens instead of waiting until it’s too late.

Should they become too frail to manage their home or take care of themselves, what would they want to do? If one parent becomes so ill and there are no family members nearby to provide proper care, what is the next step? Would that parent want to be put in a care facility, or would she prefer in-home care?

Find out what they would expect of you, and whether these expectations are reasonable. If you have been living abroad for the last 20 years, own a business and your family is very happy in your adopted country, you may have to tell your parents they can’t expect you to give up your whole life and move back to your homeland if this is what they had in mind. But it might be possible to bring them to you so be sure to research all options.

If you would want them to consider moving abroad to be closer to you, you need to talk about it with them now to gauge how they feel. It is not the type of thing that you just spring on an aging adult, or force them to do. If you are a US citizen, for example, but your parents are not and they live in another country, you can start researching what would be required to move them here, such as the process for obtaining and filing a green card application form for your parents.

Don’t put these matters off, hoping you will never have to deal with them, because you likely will. It is much better to hash things out before than be forced to make decisions in a time of crisis.


Make Visits Home as Productive as Possible

Chances are, anyone living abroad is not popping into their home country every few weeks or so; visits tend to be planned far in advance and not that frequent. Make the most of this time to ensure your parents are safe, and their needs are being tended to. If you don’t already know them, make sure you meet neighbors, friends and caregivers face-to-face, and ask them to keep you posted should they notice any problems.

Take a good look at the home to make sure everything is in working order, and arrange for any repairs while you are there. Look for signs that your parents may be slipping a bit, such as the house being unusually messy or dirty, expired food in the fridge, and mail piling up.

Carefully observe your parents—take note of their physical appearance, hygiene and mental state. Ask if they are having any problems, and encourage them to talk openly and honestly so you can work on finding a solution together.  If it seems that they may need certain types of assistance in the near future, discuss the options for meeting those needs, and take any steps while you are in the area to gather the necessary information, and get the contact information for the proper people and organizations.

You are in a tough spot, and you are probably grappling with feelings of guilt, but you must do your best to keep them at bay. Your life led you away from where you were born, and that is just how things go sometimes. Don’t make any hasty decisions like quitting your job and going back home. Only you can know for sure if that is the right move; if you know its not, you can still ensure your parents get the proper care, even if you can’t be the one personally administering it. There is plenty of tasks that can easily be accomplished regardless of location, such as managing financial information, so focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.