Caring for aging parents

Caring for elderly parents, even in the best of situations, can be tough for anyone. But it can be even more of a challenge for Military Service Members and their families. Still, it can help reduce worries if you have a solid parent-care plan in place. Relatives, neighbors, or others who can help out during your absence can ease your concerns too.

Military Service Members deploy overseas or on training missions often and can be far away from their aging parents, which makes it hard to monitor their well-being. To try to make long-term care and emergency decisions for elderly parents while juggling a lot at work can be stressful as well. As parents age, they might need help with daily activities such as home maintenance, personal hygiene, and meals. If your parent has had any prior illness, you might worry even more about his or her daily well-being. And if a medical emergency occurs without a contingency plan in place, it can add to the burden of guilt and anxiety over what could happen during your family’s absence. Aging parents also can benefit from receiving emotional support from their children, which might be hard for Military Service Members to provide due to OPSEC, distance, different time zones, or other circumstances.

You might feel obligated to take care of your aging parents. You might believe you know what’s best for them too. Or maybe you’re driven to protect them as they age. The good news is there are steps you can take to make sure your aging parents are looked after—whether they live nearby or overseas.

  • Do your homework. Research what community resources and government benefits are available in your parents’ neighborhood.
  • Make a plan. Develop a care plan together with your parents before a medical emergency occurs.
  • Ask about TRICARE coverage. Find out whether your parents can get care in military hospitals and clinics, and enroll them in TRICARE Plus.
  • Lean on loved ones. Ask siblings, extended family members, neighbors, and friends to help with your parent-care responsibilities. Consider setting up a personal care agreement if a family member needs to spend a lot of time away from work to care for your aging parent. Also, check in with those who live nearby and can visit. Remember to ask for updates on your parents’ health, finances, and other important matters.
  • Support your parents’ emotional health. It’s possible your deployment, TDY, or PCS can contribute to your parents’ sadness or loneliness. Talk about your current circumstances, validate their feelings, and encourage them to keep up with their local social connections.
  • Stay in touch. Schedule regular phone calls or online chats as often as possible. And write down simple directions, so they know how to make and answer video calls. Also, ask your parents if they’re comfortable texting, especially if one or both have trouble hearing.
  • Update your contacts. Make a list of names, phone numbers, and email addresses, so those close by can keep in touch with each other if needed. Or set up a group text to help keep everyone in the loop.

Strategic planning and communication can make all the difference in caring for elderly parents from afar. It also helps Military Service Members maintain performance while managing these added stress loads.

For more information, take a look at the National Institute on Aging’s resources on long-distance caregiving. Also, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Aging web page for facts about health care, long-term care, retirement planning, and healthy living for adults ages 65 and older.

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Lopez Hartmann, M., Anthierens, S., Van Assche, E., Welvaert, J., Verhoeven, V., Wens, J., & Remmen, R. (2016). Understanding the experience of adult daughters caring for an ageing parent, a qualitative study. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 25(11–12), 1693–1702. doi:10.1111/jocn.13195

Mosca, I., & Barrett, A. (2016). The impact of adult child emigration on the mental health of older parents. Journal of Population Economics, 29(3), 687–719. doi:10.1007/s00148-015-0582-8

Parker, M. W., Call, V. R. A., Dunkle, R., & Vaitkus, M. (2009). “Out of sight” but not “out of mind”: Parent contact and worry among senior ranking male officers in the military who live long distances from parents. Military Psychology, 14(4), 257–277. doi:10.1207/s15327876mp1404_3