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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published November 02 2008

Let snowbird parents fly south for now

Dear Carol: It’s fall again and my parents are headed south. They’ve done this every winter for nearly 20 years, and have a community in Arizona that is home to them. Their health problems are becoming more and more obvious. I’d like them to stop these trips and get an apartment here. They say they have all they need in their Arizona community. How can I look after them when they refuse to consider moving back? – Floyd

Dear Floyd: Your dilemma is the mirror image of a nationwide problem, since nationally, so many young adults move away from the family’s hometown. However, here we have the unique twist of traveling elders escaping our harsh winters.

Adult children must remember that their parents have the right to live where they want, even if it causes the family anxiety. Generally, the parents have developed a support system of friends, church members, clubs and medical people.

The rub comes when one parent is especially ill and the other one can’t care for the spouse, or when they are both so fragile they need assisted living or nursing home care.

Ellen and John, friends of my parents, lived in Fargo for decades. After John’s death, Ellen’s health rapidly declined. Her children pushed for her to move to their area and Ellen reluctantly agreed.

She moved to a lovely new apartment and her family took good care of her. But she was depressed without her friends and the town that, to her, was home. Her family did the best they could, however she remained unhappy. It was sad, but there was no perfect solution. They did their best.

Then there was Ingrid. She and her husband were snowbirds. When her husband unexpectedly died, the kids wanted to bring Ingrid back to Moorhead. She didn’t want to come back, as she felt her friends were in Arizona. However, by the time Ingrid’s health began to decline, most of her southern friends had died or were in ill heath. Her family knew she could need nursing care, and though it was a battle, they were able to show her that her social support down south had basically dried up. They brought her back to Moorhead and found a nice assisted living center for her where she made new friends. Was she entirely happy? Not at first. But she adjusted, and the last I heard she was enjoying life and glad to be back near her family.

In the end, like so much of life, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Social connections and support are vital, so that is normally a major factor in where the elder is best off. If your parents have that down south, Floyd, then maybe Arizona is the best place for them, for now.

One thing that could be helpful for your peace of mind is to go online to the Eldercare Locator, a government site that gives care options all over the country. The Web address is www.eldercare.gov. You’ll use your parent’s ZIP code to look for services. This site is very useful, but be sure to check references, as there are no quality checks in place. By being proactive, you’ll at least have a starting point if you suddenly find yourself in a long-distance care-giving role.

Bursack is the author of “Minding Our Elders,” a support book on family elder care, and maintains a Web site at www.mindingourelders.com. To view past columns, go to www.in-forum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at cbursack@forumcomm.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.