Q. I think that my father, who lives in Ohio, may have Alzheimer’s disease. He is getting really forgetful and my mother is frustrated that he just sits around all day doing nothing. How can I find out what’s going on, when I live so far away?
A. It can be difficult to figure out what’s really going on when you live at a distance from your parents. In your case, the first thing to do is to talk to your parents about your concerns that your father’s health seems to have changed over the last year.
Encourage your father to have a physical exam, and arrange to call the doctor yourself a few days before the appointment and briefly describe your observations and concerns. Your father’s symptoms may be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, but there are many other medical problems that could also cause them, so be careful not to pre-diagnose his condition. At any rate, the sooner he is evaluated, the sooner an appropriate treatment can be recommended.
If you are able to travel, you might plan to go with your parents to the appointment, or to arrange a follow-up visit with the doctor once any test results are available, so you can discuss the results and potential treatments with your parents and the doctor. While you are there, you may also want to visit with local family and friends and ask them to help provide support to your parents.
Often a weekly visit or ride to the grocery store makes a big difference as people develop health problems. Once you return home, you can continue to encourage and support your parents by telephone, and keep in touch with the doctor or others in their local support network. Over time, you may find that you want to visit more often, or that they need more formal support such as a geriatric case manager, visiting nurse, or adult day center.
For yourself, you may want to find out more about “long-distance caregiving.” A good place to start is with a free booklet from the National Institute on Aging, “So Far Away: Twenty Questions for Long-Distance Caregivers.”
You can order it by calling 1-800-222-2225 or logging on to their website at www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation.