Caring for your ageing loved ones from a distance

When someone we love takes a turn for the worse, life abroad can suddenly become very stressful – and bring on a host of complex emotions and decisions. This week Expat Nest is delighted to welcome intercultural trainer, consultant and author Elizabeth Vennekens-Kelly as she discusses some strategies for dealing with this common expat challenge. Find more info on Elizabeth’s work at

Career opportunities take individuals and their families away from their home country. Their focus is on the new job and adjusting to life in another country. In most cases parents have encouraged their child to take advantage of the unique opportunity to work and live in a foreign land. Expats quickly learn that life in another country is exciting but also more complicated. They have a new life to build and challenges to handle, so less thought is given to their relatives back home. It isn’t that they don’t care; it is simply a matter of human nature that if someone or something is absent, it is overlooked.

Today most pensioners are leading active lives so we don’t have to worry about them. However, a relative’s health status can change suddenly and dramatically. When we live on the other side of the world we feel helpless. Caring for your loved ones from a distance is a multi-faceted issue and there isn’t one right answer.  Expats dealing with a frail or ill loved one from a distance often comment that they are managing, although each describes unexpected challenges, frustrations and a desire to have known more in advance. The families are juggling multiple issues including guilt, resentment by other family members, time differences, added costs, cultural traditions, legal issues, and misunderstandings.

Here are five suggestions to consider:

  1. Use technology to stay in touch with your loved ones, your family and those involved with the care. Technology gives you the opportunity to have an active role in the ongoing activities and decision process.
  2. Create an emergency plan including a special fund. Put resources in place, such as childcare, so that you can react quickly. The emergency fund will help to reduce the financial burden of unexpected family expenses.
  3. Whenever possible have open, honest conversations with your siblings and ageing loved ones so that everyone has the same expectations; this will minimize misunderstandings.
  4. Look for creative ways to stay in touch and involved with the family. This can help lessen your feelings of guilt for being so far away.
  5. Honour cultural differences including how people want to be cared for and how you can best honour them when they pass away.

Being prepared, having information, making a plan and opening dialogue with relatives will mean less scrambling when your loved ones need assistance. Being prepared for the ‘what if’ related to our ageing relatives can give us peace of mind.

Are you abroad and concerned about an elderly or ill relative at home? How do you and your family deal with this? We’d love to hear more tips! Feel free to share them in the comments section below.  


Did you like this article? If so, share it with someone you love and subscribe to our TOP EXPAT TIPS.

© Vivian Chiona

FEEL FREE TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR BLOG OR NEWSLETTER. We ask only that you attribute Expat Nest and include the following: Expat Nest ( is a professional online counselling service for expats.

Photo: Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash