A Parent's Guide to Managing Chronic Illness in College

Updated: October 28, 2019
It's the first time your teen has been away from home, and while you want to make sure they eat right and do their laundry, you want to make sure they are able to manage their health challenges.
Boy with chronic illness in college dorm scrolling on his phone

College is a time of change and worry for every parent and teen, but if your child has a chronic illness, medical issues, or disability you have a lot more to worry about. You’ve probably been on the front lines helping your child manage his or her condition, but this will be the first time they will be flying solo on all fronts, so it’s important that you know how to support them so they can care for themselves.

The following six tips will help provide smoother sailing during this time of change and allow you and your child to feel that you’ve got this!

More: 10 Gifs That Perfectly Sum Up Life With a Teen

Sign a HIPPA Release Form

Mom and daughter signing HIPPA Release Form

Even though you’re paying tuition, if something happens to your student while they are at school, unless you have been proactive and provided a signed HIPPA release form they cannot share anything with you due to HIPPA regulations. This is recommended for all students whether they have medical or mental health issues but especially for kids who do have chronic medical conditions or mental health challenges. This way the school can share what’s happening if something crops up when you’re hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Get to Know the College Medical Services/Health Center Staff

Dad And Daughter Discussing Chronic Illness With Doctor

Our son had surgery two months ago and recently had a very unusual and serious complication requiring emergency surgery and a week’s hospital stay. I thought how lucky we were that this happened now and not a year from now when our son was away from home as a college freshman. Would he have known what to do and where to turn? The Medical Services department of the college or university where your child attends is the first place you need to connect with well before setting foot on campus. Share pertinent information about your child’s medical needs and keep them up to date on recent changes from medication to contact information including the signed HIPPA release form (tip above). It could save their lives.

Update Devices with Contacts and Prescription Refill Info

Doctor parent and teen talking about prescription for chronic illness

Before packing up the car, make sure you and your child have the same contacts saved in all devices especially smartphones so with the touch of a button your child’s doctor can be called. Same for prescription medication that needs refills. Choose a pharmacy on or near campus where your student can refill scripts, many use apps for easy refill requests. Make sure your student has the exact same information and update frequently if there are changes to their care team, contacts, or medication. Having the right people and accurate information at the touch of a button gives you and your student increased confidence and peace of mind.

Hit Home that Lifestyle Choices Can Affect Health Conditions

Dad and son with chronic illness having a serious conversation

We want to trust that our kids won’t be drinking or doing anything but studying but they will be faced with freedoms at college they didn’t face at home whether it’s alcohol or eating whatever they want. If your child has a condition like diabetes that can be impacted by dietary or lifestyle choices, be upfront and talk about this with them. Have your students understand that if they drink a beer, their blood sugar will be impacted. Things can go sideways quickly with kids who have a chronic illness or medical issues so hit home how much this matters. 

Send Them with a First Aid Kit

Young woman holding a first aid kit for chronically ill college student

When you’re at home, you can send your kid to the medicine cabinet to get ibuprofen for that headache or an ice pack for a sore muscle. Pack your student with a first aid kit stocked with items they may need like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, antacids, band-aids, instant cold packs and more. This will be a touch of home coupled with necessities they may need at a moment’s notice.  

Let Them Know You Are Available 24/7 

Mom and teenage daughter in college connecting over the phone

Let’s face it, leaving for college is as stressful for our kids as it is for us. As much as they will enjoy their newfound freedom, there’s always some doubt so making sure no matter what, that they know you are there for them is important. Leave your phone on and let them know if they need to chat at 3 am, are feeling anxiety, or just want to hear your voice, that you will always be there. 

Is your child dealing with a chronic illness? Pin these tips for later: 

College student with chronic illness studying at computer

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About the author
Laura Richards

Laura Richards is a writer, journalist, communications, brand, and PR specialist with 20+ years of experience. She’s also a mother of four so understands the joys and struggles of parenting.