Father and Daughter

Loved Ones and the Distance Challenge

I grew up in Massachusetts in a small town in the western half of the state. It’s a pretty little place with a couple of big lakes, one stoplight and not much else. Dad still lives there, in the same house that he and Mom bought 35 years before.

Three years ago, my husband took a new job, and we relocated to Nashville, Tennessee. I’m suddenly a lot farther away. I miss being close and being able to check in on things. I still get home a couple of times a year, but it’s not the same. It has made me realize that I need to find new ways to stay in touch with Dad, who now lives alone.

Staying close to Dad from far away

I don’t consider my father to be “elderly,” per se; he’s self-sufficient, traveling and enjoying life. But he’s also stubborn and the last person in the world to ask for help. A couple years back, Dad needed some minor knee surgery. The doctor’s office required that someone be present to drive him home after the procedure. Dad didn’t have anyone, so he decided that he could just tell the doctor he had a ride, then go out and drive himself home.

Fortunately, the nurse in the office was vigilant and stopped Dad before he got in trouble. We were able to get it all sorted out and found him a ride home. It’s this sort of thing that I worry about — that as he ages he won’t ask for help, and I’m not close enough to see the little things that are markers of bigger challenges on the horizon.

More than physical health

Another concern I have is, these days, you have to worry about more than just the physical changes that come with age. Signs that there are issues with cognition can be much more subtle. There is the very real risk of financial exploitation or identity theft. Dad owns his home outright and has always been very vocal about the importance of saving enough to provide for yourself through retirement. He has worked hard to save and build a decent nest egg.

I know that statistically, as we age, we all undergo challenges. Some of these include a reduced ability to handle simple math problems. This puts folks like my father at risk because they are increasingly vulnerable — but won’t see it. And the reality is, once fraud or exploitation takes place, the money that was stolen doesn’t get recovered in the vast majority of cases. It’s gone.

Dad and I have started to have a conversation about what the future could hold as we both move through our lives with respect to health, housing and finances. It was a little awkward at first, bringing these topics up, but being proactive and discussing his wishes and needs — before there is a crisis — has been a really good thing.

I need help, too

In a few years, I expect that my husband and I will have to think about moving to be closer to my father or, more likely, moving Dad to be with us here in Tennessee. We’ll certainly make this one of the topics we discuss in one of our father-daughter conversations. In the meantime, I’ve started to look at different measures we can consider to ensure that Dad stays safe, healthy and independent — but also keeps me apprised of any problems.

I’ve learned that there’s a lot of information and tools like EverSafe out there for folks like us who are trying to lend a hand to their aging parents. But it usually starts with having that really important conversation.