When Elderly Parents Live On the Other Side of the World

Older adults have made countless contributions and sacrifices to ensure a better life for future generations. Since 1963, communities across the country have shown their gratitude by celebrating Older Americans Month each May. This celebration recognizes older Americans for their contributions and demonstrates our nation’s commitment to helping them stay healthy and active.  In honor of Older Americans Month, Mala Datta writes for us about issues that arise with aging parents.

By Mala Datta

April was an interesting month in my circle of friends. Two of my good friends went to India to visit their respective families. Both women are around 50 years of age, and both have elderly parents living in India. In past years, their parents could travel to the US, but now failing health and age has made travel very challenging.  In one family, my friend is the only child and she would like to visit her parents more often, but her responsibilities to her own work and family make it difficult to do so.  She feels stressed and worries that she cannot do more.  She worries about her parents’ health and well-being, she worries when the phone rings at night, she worries when the phone rings at the other end and no one picks up.

My other friend has siblings in India who care for the parents, but she too feels she needs to do more.  She is anxious about her Dad, who is in and out of the hospital.  She is concerned about her mother and her failing health as well.  Travel back and forth is a huge financial stress on both families.  I am sure that my friends are not alone in this situation.  As the aging population continues to increase, we are seeing more and more families caring for elderly parents.  Immigrant families have the choice of either asking their elderly parents to come live here in the US with them, or visiting them in home country. The upside of  having grandparents living at home here in the US is, of course greater interaction with the grandchildren, family support and interaction and support to the extended family. However, there is also a greater risk of elderly parents feeling socially isolated from family and community, failing health and feeling financially obligated to their children, family and cultural issues. Studies have shown that rate of Depression is high in this group of individuals. Children may also find that parents who are living in India may also face Social isolation and/or  limited social support and depression.

In the US, there are almost 7 million adults who report that they travel to visit their elderly parents each year, and studies tell us that women are usually the main caregivers to the elderly. The ‘sandwich generation’ has to divide their time between elderly parents and their children. The stress of being the primary caregiver is enormous. Lots of people report feeling ‘burned out’ as a result of the stressful situation.

As a psychologist, I can offer some suggestions to ease the stress for individuals like my friends:

  • Plan for the future and talk with parents early on.  This goes a long way in reducing the stress as needs begin to arise.
  • Ensuring that finances are in order and talking about advanced health directives is helpful. Whether parents live close by or far away in India or another country, making sure that finances are in order in case of an emergency is essential.
  • Take the time to learn stress-reducing activities like meditation.  Research shows that mindful meditation helps in coping with stress.
  • Ask for help when things are tough. Ask friends and other family members to help out if need be. Talk to your spouse, friends, or other family members.
  • Encourage Involvement in local  organizations like church, mosque and the temple.
  • Arrange for home health aides; paying for the help if you can afford it and are unable to be with your parents may help to keep stress at bay.
  • Emergencies might occur, keep calm and breathe!!!

A google search indicated that Apnacare  in Bangalore India, is a full service organization.

For a list of other South Asian organizations and resources please visit  https://chaicounselors.wordpress.com/resources/.

Mala Datta, PhD, maintains a private practice in Suffern, New York.  She Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 9.09.14 PMworks with individuals of all ages and uses a number of evidenced-based therapies to help individuals.  She has been in private practice for more than 10 years.  She is also a Life Coach working with professionals in private practice. She is originally from India.  She worked in India, the UK, and Saudi Arabia before settling in the USA. She speaks Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil.  She blogs on various topics related to mental health and well- being on her website Maladattaphd.com.  She can be reached at 201-952-9905.

2 Comments on “When Elderly Parents Live On the Other Side of the World

  1. There’s this wonderful service available in India, in the city of Bangalore called Goodhands (www.goodhands.in). It’s almost like having a surrogate sibling at home. They take care of your parents when you’re miles away. They do everything, from changing lightbulbs, to emergency responding, to paying bills and taking care of the big and small needs that pop up for your parents.

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