How to Help Aging Parents From Afar

Crises do occur — illness, accident, heart attack or stroke. But the consequences of these events are similar to the issues above: limited independence, need for some kind of assisted care, help with managing personal business affairs — and these are all eventualities that families can prepare for.

Once You're Back Home

Once children return to their own homes after the holidays, there are a variety of ways they can help their parents from afar. Communication is a major one. Use telephone and e-mail. Consumers over 60 are the fastest growing group of computer and Internet users, according to Microsoft. Kids can help their parents set up computers and it's a good way to communicate. Seventy-year-old Barbara Murphy in New Lisbon, Wis., for example, keeps in touch with her 11 kids and 26 grandchildren by both phone and e-mail, using a computer one of her sons set up for her.

Setting up a relationship with members of your parents' community is another way to watch over them. Neighbors, friends, health-care providers, members of your family's church and, in the case of parents living in an assisted care or dependent care facility, a staff member can all help.

Going home more often is yet another way. Lynn Schwaab used to spend six weeks every summer with her parents and in-laws. Her husband Dick would make frequent and shorter visits home year round to help with business affairs. Ultimately, the couple moved from Washington, D.C., to Wisconsin to be nearer to their parents.

Patti Novak Echenique is another who moved back home, leaving California for a job in Illinois in order to be closer to her dairy-farmer parents. This fall she helped her parents sell their dairy cows as the couple scales back on some of their farming operations.

It's inevitable that parents age. But families should remember that aging can be a gradual process, with some declines but plateaus and improvements as well, says Brown.

And, there's never been a better time to be a senior citizen.

Today's seniors live longer, are healthier, better able to get around, better educated and have more opportunities to lead an active and healthy lifestyle than previous generations, according to data from the Administration on Aging.

A classic example: John Glenn returned to space in 1998 at age 77, showing that senior citizens who have the right stuff keep it. Increasingly, there are more and more seniors like Glenn who continue to enjoy a rich quality of life that rewards both them and their families.

Resources and Ideas

Here are some resources and things you can do to help deal with your parents' aging:

The Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov, 800-677-1116) can help you find what services are available in your parents' community. Other helpful organizations are the National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org) and the National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov).

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