Moving family to be close to parent with Alzheimer's?

Hi! I am interested to learn how other people navigate having elderly or sick parents living abroad (or far away) while you are raising a family here.

My own situation is that I am from Europe, married to an American, living here for 10 years, and have two kids under 5. I enjoy living here and we have built a good community, though the high cost of living is a burden on us. My mother back home has early onset Alzheimers and has been living with it for about 7 years now. She has in-home caretakers, my brother lives in the same city as her and takes care of all administrative issues and visits and spends time with her, and there are other family members and friends who maintain contact. Overall, she is in good care.

However, living more or less on the other side of the world means that I can see her 2 - maybe 3 times max per year and that comes with long-distance travel. 2-3 times a year is not great with this disease and I estimate that my mom has about 1.5 - 2 years left before she will reach the later stages of the disease and might not need to move to memory care etc. I am considering moving my family to Europe, which my partner is open to. I am overwhelmed by how daunting it seems - the potential of moving back to my hometown brings up a lot of emotions, both positive and negative, I worry about changed family dynamics both in my family of origin and with my own family, both my husband and I would need to find new jobs, the kids would need to be supported through a major move (which would mainly affect my 5 year old, though at least he knows my parents and the city well as we have spent a lot of time there), etc.

I am not planning on becoming a care taker for my mom, but to be there to both support my family with her care and to be there for her as she has to go through this terrible disintegration of her life. As I am contemplating the move I am also sad at the idea of leaving the Bay Area and since we don't own a home here and wouldn't be able to take our jobs there, it feels like we would not be able to maintain a strong connection to the Bay Area (though  we would come back to the US regularly to visit my partners family). 

I am curious how other people navigate big life decisions like this in general, with young kids and elderly parents, and any advice on Alzheimer's specifically. Thank you for reading! 

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I can't say I have an answer, only to share my commiseration and note that I'll be following your thread closely as my husband just brought up this same concern with me last night. He is European while I'm an American, and we moved here about five years ago to be closer to my family in the Bay Area, but he fears that in the next few years, he will eventually be faced with the same difficult choices you're bringing as his parents' health start to deteriorate. I hope others here have some good insight and experiences to share. 

I'm very sorry to hear about your situation. It's so tough. My family moved from the Bay Area to Europe almost four years ago, and about two years ago my mother (in NY State) was diagnosed with advanced cancer. So I was in a similar position to you, traveling back-and-forth (including during Covid times!), sometimes staying for up to 2-3 weeks at a time. It was expensive and often disruptive to my family's life, but certainly way less disruptive than moving! My mother died three months ago, and I am grateful for all of the time I had with her. One element of living far-away: I wasn't there for a lot of the day-to-day care, driving to appointments, etc. (that fell on my sister, and that's another consideration!), but maybe because of that, I was able to be "present" with my mother in a different way. We spoke nearly every day, and when I was there in person I had zero distractions of work, kids, etc. and was able to really be WITH her. In the end, I felt that "quality" of time was as meaningful as "quantity" of time. One other thing I will say is that, depending on your kids' dispositions, moving abroad is not for the faint of heart. As you probably know, there are a lot of adjustments, different schools systems to navigate, etc. It is sad, but your mother won't live forever, and from what I know of Alzheimer's, the quality of your time with her will definitely shift as the disease progresses. I would really sit down with your family and carefully weigh all of the costs and benefits of a big move vs. a lot of trips. And either way, I would think about how you are able to best "show up" for your mother, your children and partner, your siblings, and yourself through what is a terribly difficult time of life. In the end, I think that matters even more than geography. Good luck with it all. I have found a lot of solace in sharing my experience with other friends who are living abroad as their parents age and die. It's a terrible trade-off for international living. 

This is a heartbreaking situation that many of us face.  My dad lives across the country (only 2K miles) and has stroke dementia.  It strikes me as though your understandable and deep grief may be guiding your thinking a lot.  Would it be possible for to you in the next 6 months to spend *much* more time in your European hometown with your mom--like, take ONE young child and stay for a month? Could you take family medical leave from work, or work out some decreased work load with your employer?  I know this seems daunting to consider, arrange, and schedule, but uprooting your family to be with your mother could not be what you envision it to be.  Or could you go by yourself for a week at a time?   Unless you want to permanently move back to Europe and your mother's condition is simply spurring you to act more quickly on a move back to Europe anyway.  Anyway, I am so sorry you are going through this and I totally get the grief, fear, and anguish of being so far away from a very ill parent. 


i moved my family back to Europe to be closer to my parents and siblings and I would say the hardest part is to build a new community. Though I easily found a job the pay is not great and the hardest has been for my American husband who has not acclimated to the language and culture here. My primary aged son has adapted just fine and is happy at school. Happy to exchange more. Feel free to DM me. 

Sorry to hear about your mother's health. We actually just made the opposite move from France where we'd been for 5 years, and had intended to stay much longer, to the Bay area once my father-in-law's dementia progressed to the point where he only has a year or so left. There are plenty of caregivers in place so we aren't needed in that capacity but we chose to make the move because we know we'll never have these years back, and we hope to create some more memories with him while we can. We have also been able to provide emotional support to his wife, my mother-in-law, which has been a big relief and hopefully will help extend her life as well. If it's the decision you decide to make know that kids are resilient and can even flourish in new settings given the chance, and jobs, even new opportunities, appear when you search for them.  Though we miss our life in Paris and plan to move back in the future, this is where we are meant to be now. Hope that helps you, and bon courage with your decision.

I have the experience of making the difficult decision to move myself and my child away from a connected community — not for the support of a family member with Alzheimer’s but I still think there is a useful parallel: you mentioned concern for your 5 yr old — my experience was that the upheaval was a challenge, but my child learned some amazing lessons: 1) that things can change in a huge way, but that he can handle it, and even enjoy it. 2)That home is wherever we are, together and maybe most importantly: 3) being with loved ones at times of illness and need is a family value. 
Best of luck to you and I’m sorry about your mother’s illness. 

We moved home to the Bay Area partially to be close to family. It's tough in some ways (cost of living! smoke!  educational questions for my kid!), but I am so grateful that I will get to be near my parents as they age, and share the work with my brother.  My folks don't live here yet, but they have spent 3 months of the year here since we moved and are hoping to have moved here within the year.  I'm so glad my kid knows them.  There's every reason to expect they could live another 20+ years, but if they don't, she has had real time with them.  I am so glad that I have the prospect of living near my parents and being able to support them through their aging process, and that my brother and I can share the support roles.  But -- I love the Bay Area and it feels like home to me, we have close friends here, and my brother lives here and intends to stay.  I've accepted that my east coast friends are people I love, but will not see even yearly, most likely.  It's a bummer but I'm not sure what else I can do.  But, I also love it here and it feels like home and not exile.  Where I lived before never felt like home, and really didn't feel like home for my partner.  

However, what's right for me might not be right for you.  Here are a few things to think about, which don't all cut the same way:

Do you have relationships other than your family in Europe?  Do you have reasonable job prospects?  If you are just moving there for your mother (rather than your mother leading you to reassess your priorities) I think it's a little tougher as a sell.  

I wonder how you will feel if you move your family there, and then 2 years later your mother is rarely lucid, or if she dies a year from now.  Where do you want your life to be in the long term?  What feels like home?  If the answer is the Bay Area, can you -- for example -- take an extended unpaid leave and take your children with you for a trip?  Sure, it's expensive, but so is moving and finding a new job.  

How do you feel about raising your kids in the US vs. Europe?  With current US politics, I am already thinking about when/whether I would leave (and where I would go).  Is your home safer (from gun violence, devastating medical bills, fascist politics, ...)?   

How close are you to your partner's family?  Would you see them less if you moved?  What does care and support for them look like long term?  How would that affect your family's needs?