Conventional wisdom says that we all want to stay in our own homes for as long as we can. That is likely how most of our elders feel; however it's not always in their best interest to do so. How do we talk with them about the realities and dangers of staying at home once their health is failing, and how do we convince them that a move to an assisted living center could be a very good – and positive option?
I believe that part of the problem with convincing elders, and many younger people for that matter, is that people haven't been inside a modern assisted living center. Deep inside their gut, they harbor the outdated image of an "old folk's home." They consider a move from the family home one more step away from independence and one step closer toward death. They think a move to assisted living signifies to the world that they now have the proverbial "one foot on a banana peel and one foot in the grave." This image and mindset is stubborn.
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For many elders, some in-home help and a personal alarm can be enough. They are able to stay in their own home for years with a relatively small amount of help. Then, a spouse dies. The survivor is now truly alone. There's no one to get help for them should they fall and can't set off their alarm. There are few opportunities to socialize. Meals become a chore, so they don't eat well. Memory is failing, and the stove doesn't get turned off. The single elder, stubbornly clinging to the idea that their familiar home is best, can often be a sad and lonely sight.
Contrast this life with living in a good assisted living center, whether it's a stand-alone building, one connected to a nursing home or a small family operation where only a few seniors board. In any of these situations, seniors can thrive because: They don't have the responsibility of keeping up a home, so they are relieved of the need to hire help or let the house deteriorate. They have people around should they need medical help or other assistance. They have choices of food and snacks with nutritional value and, in most cases, good quality. Perhaps most importantly, they make new friends and have an abundance of activities to choose from.
Okay, you are convinced. You know that you can't keep providing the constant oversight for your parent that has been taking over your life, and by extension, taking over the lives of your spouse and children. How do you go about convincing your parent that it's time think about moving to assisted living?
- First, plant the seed. Don't approach your parent as though you've already made the decision for him or her. Just mention that there are options that could make life easier and more fun.
- Next, offer a tour of some local assisted living centers, if he or she is willing, but don't push it. Drop the subject if necessary, and wait for another day.
- Watch for a "teachable moment." Did Mom fall, but escape getting badly hurt? Use that as a springboard. You may want to wait a bit, or immediately say something like, "Wow, that was close. Once you're feeling better, maybe we could go look at the new assisted living center over by the church. We'd both feel better if you had people around." Go with your gut on the timing, but use the "moment."
- Again, don't push unless you consider this an emergency. It's hard to wait, but you may need to. Wait for, say, a very lonely day when Mom is complaining about how she never sees her friends anymore. Then, gently, try again.
- Check with your friends and friends of your parents. See if any live happily in an assisted living center nearby, or if their parents do. Just like your first day of school when you looked for a friend – any friend – who may be in your class, your parent would feel much better if there were a friend already in the center.
- Even if they won't know anyone, you can still take your parent to watch a group having fun playing cards or wii bowling. Show off the social aspects of a good center. Keep it light and don't force the issue. Tour more than one center, if possible, and ask your parent for input. Big center or small? New and modern or older and cozy?
- Show interest in how much privacy a resident has. Ask about bringing furniture from home and how much room there is. Take measuring tapes and visualize, if you can see some rooms, how your parent's room(s) would look. Show excitement, as you would do if you were helping your parent move to a new apartment, because that's what you are doing.
- Stress the safety aspects.
- Stress the fact that there's no yard cleanup, but flowers can be tended to. There's no need to call a plumber if the sink breaks, but there are plenty of things to do if people want. There's plenty of freedom to be alone, but company when they desire it.
Then wait. Let it all sink in. Sorry to say that if you want your parent to make the decision, you could have to wait for another fall or something else before they will be willing to take that step. However, if your family is close-knit, have a meeting with the parent at this point and tell him or her how much better the family would feel if the move were made.
Enlist a family friend or spiritual leader to chat with your parent and state the case for this move. Third parties often can make headway when family fails.
Be sensitive to your parent's feelings. Leaving a home where he or she lived with a life partner, raised kids and once had friends among the neighbors is emotionally difficult. Whittling down a lifetime of possessions is hard. Be kind, be sensitive and try to make it be about your parent and not about you.
However, if you must – let your parent know that it will help you to know that he or she is safe. Play the "we are worried about your care." It's the truth. It's just easier if you can swing it, to let the parent make the decision.
Elder care author, columnist and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack is an AgingCare.com contributing editor and moderator of the AgingCare.com community forum. Read her full biography