Q. I live in Miami with my three teenage children. My parents, ages 86 and 83, still live in my childhood home in Maine with my sister nearby. My mother is in the early stages of dementia, but with just a little extra help, my father takes care of her and provide the supervision that she requires. It has gotten exceedingly more difficult for them in the winter months when weather prevents them from getting out, taking care of the house and visiting friends.
My sister and I have convinced them to relocate to South Florida for the winters. Though I found communities and Assisted Living Facilities for them near me, they ultimately bought a home in a rural part of Florida, well over an hour drive away from me (without traffic).
Other than warmer weather, their relocation doesn’t accomplish anything. They will be as isolated during the winter months.
Jill M., Aventura
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Having parents relocate at this age, even for half of the year, can be very challenging for all family members. I agree that their decision to come so far and not live close to you has not accomplished as much as you would have liked. However, the steps that are needed to help them get established are the same as if they lived just next door, year-round.
For example, it’s important that you help your parents create the infrastructure they need to assimilate easily and safely into their new area. This includes identifying community centers and other social venues where they can make new friends. Open a local bank account where, with your parents’ permission, you can be a co-signer so that you can monitor finances and help them pay bills. Also, help them identify physicians in their area with geriatric experience.
On this last point, consider introducing your parents to a geriatric care manager (GCM), who can put together a care plan and also make certain that their home is safe for them. She could check in on them periodically to ensure that their medical needs are being met and quickly put key medical relationships in place, including physicians, and companion care if needed. The advantage of working with a GCM can be especially meaningful to family caregivers like yourself, who live far away and are not familiar with their parents’ community.
Alternatively, engaging a good home healthcare agency could be a big as help has well. Be sure to choose an agency that provides good oversight and that will communicate with you and your siblings on a regular basis, so that you can be notified of any changes in their health status.
Many snowbirds in their ‘80s are delighted by the comfortable life that warm weather affords them. So it wouldn’t be surprising if their part-time relocation becomes permanent within just a few years. That’s why I recommend taking the time to help them get their footing in their new home and find trusted resources they will be able to depend upon for the years ahead.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.