As Parents Age, Moving Them to Mexico is an Option Worth Considering

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Alba, right, led a team of nurses to take care of Mom for nearly four years in Mérida, Mexico. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

Of all the reasons American and Canadian citizens move to Mexico, elder care may not be top of the list. 

But as our parents live longer — often as we enter retirement — expats in Mexico may choose this path. Especially if a parent is widowed and living alone. And especially if the thought of a nursing home in your home country seems troubling.

My mother, who was widowed at age 89 in 2019, lived a few miles from some pretty swanky assisted-living communities. It would have been easy to sell her house and divert her pension income to one of those facilities. 

Nurse Alba shows Mom the fish in our pond on their way to the breakfast table. Photo: Lee Steele / Yucatán Magazine

We fell into eldercare abroad by accident. I had already been working from home under an informal agreement with my boss — I was just a year ahead of my time. In 2019, that was still a fairly radical proposition. 

So my partner and I took Mom to Mérida, Yucatán, to escape the Northeast’s imminent winter weather. We planned to return in March 2020 and then figure things out. Both the pandemic and my mom’s mini-stroke, which coincided with our planned travel back to the New York area, conspired to keep us all here.

Luckily, our home was built 10 years earlier in the historic center with this possibility in mind. We built it with ADA-compliant bathrooms and no tripping hazards, like a step down to the terrace.

At Centro Médico Pensiones, where Mom was admitted, we took the option of hiring four private-duty nurses who worked in rotation to stay in Mom’s room when we weren’t there. When Mom was discharged, the nurses followed. 

For the next nearly four years, the same nurses clocked in — led by Alba, who maintained the work schedules and made sure her medications were stocked and taken. They gave her showers and helped her in the bathroom. Whoever was on the overnight shift slept in a recliner that we bought in a medical supply store while Mom stayed in her own bed. Mom was never alone, and always clean, dressed, and engaged.

They were sweet and always cheerful. They ate meals and watched TV with us, celebrated holidays, and became like family. 

The idea of this happening in the United States is unfathomable. I remember quickie visits from Medicare or trips to specialists in the snow. More doctors and therapists here make house calls. They tend to spend more time with their patients, I’ve observed. And what happened in nursing homes during the pandemic gives us chills to this day. 

Mom loved it here. The eternal summer, the good-natured nurses, and the comforts of living in a family home together made her final years a time of joy. 

Assisted living

I’m far from alone. Monica Petrus, who’s from the Los Angeles area, faced the same dilemma. After two broken hips and worsening dementia, her mother’s needs were such that she required an assisted living facility with a memory care unit, which she found at Mérida Health Care in Dzityá. Her mother is thriving. 

Monica Petrus’ mother, who is from California, is in good hands at a memory care facility in Mexco. Photo: Contributed

“They get her manicures, pedicures and haircuts,” Monica says. “She’s as happy as can be possible. She just fits there.”

The staff speaks English, and the other residents comprise a mix of nationals and people from her home country. She has a private room that faces a garden. Social Security covers enough of the costs that the facility is affordable, including medicine and physical therapy.

“It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful, honestly, it’s the best,” Monica says. “I feel it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Just down the street

Chicago native Linda O’Donnell is preparing to celebrate her mother’s 91st birthday in May. She won’t have to go far — her mother lives a block away, in a home that she herself built five years ago, filled with her own furniture and personal belongings. 

She does her own laundry and chores. Her daughter and son-in-law do the driving and help with meals. So she’s largely independent but not stranded. 

“We are glad that she’s near us in case she needs us,” says Linda. “My mother is extremely happy with her life in Mérida. She has made new friends and has a fairly active social life.” 

(To learn more about private nurses, write me at lee@roofcatmedia.com)

Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.
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