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, but it’s not always in their best interests to do so. How do we talk with them about the realities and dangers of staying at home once their health and/or functional abilities decline? How do we convince them that a move to assisted living could benefit their mental and physical health?
Aging In Place vs. Assisted Living
Professional in-home care and a medical alert system are sufficient for some seniors to remain at home safely for a time. But if they live alone or their spouse is frail, then there’s no one to help them if they experience a medical emergency and can’t push their wearable call button. The familiarity and comforts of home are undeniable, but there are some concerns and drawbacks associated with aging in place.
For instance, as leaving the house becomes more of a hassle and friends develop their own mobility issues, there are fewer opportunities for elders to socialize. Household tasks like cooking, cleaning and laundry grow increasingly challenging, so some seniors may stop eating, completing chores or changing into clean clothes. Older adults experiencing cognitive decline are especially vulnerable and can fall victim to scams, forget to turn off kitchen appliances, and even lapse into self-neglect.
Aging in place is an option for seniors who make proper home modifications, have a robust support system, and are realistic about their health and functional abilities. However, many older adults put themselves at risk by failing to plan for and acknowledge their increasing needs. Even those who have done their best to prepare for their golden years may find that their forever home is no longer safe or suitable. What’s more, their family caregivers are often run ragged trying to ensure their safety and well-being while juggling their own lives.
Part of the problem with convincing elders—and sometimes other family members for that matter—to give senior living a chance is that most have never been inside a modern assisted living facility (ALF). They still envision the “old folks’ rest homes” from decades ago, and the move from a family home is considered one more step away from independence and closer to death. This image and mindset are widespread but misleading and detrimental to seniors in need of support.
Contrast this life with living in a well-vetted ALF, whether it’s a stand-alone facility, part of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), or a private board and care home where only a few seniors live. In any of these situations, seniors can thrive. They don’t have the responsibility of maintaining a home, so they are relieved of the pressure to hire help, tackle household projects themselves or let the house deteriorate. Assisted living is just that—assisted. Seniors maintain more than a modicum of their independence in ALFs, thanks to the added benefit of 24/7 access to trained staff in case they need medical help or other assistance. Nutritious meals and snacks are available in both community dining settings and in residents’ apartments. Perhaps most importantly, seniors have the opportunity to make friends with their new neighbors and an abundance of engaging activities available just outside their front doors.
For many family caregivers, the benefits of assisted living are clear and all signs point to the fact that Mom and/or Dad need this move. After all, your current caregiving duties are only going to ramp up as they get older. But how do you go about convincing them that it’s time think about moving to assisted living? Use the following tips to help a loved one recognize that the supportive services and amenities available in assisted living communities may be exactly what they need to stay safe, healthy and happy.
10 Tips for Getting a Parent to Move to Assisted Living
Plant the seed.Don’t approach your loved one(s) as though you’ve already made the decision for them. It’s best to start talking to parents about assisted living and other senior living options well before the need arises. If you haven’t laid the groundwork for this possibility, simply mention there are options out there that could make life easier, safer and more enjoyable for them.
Do your research.Next, research assisted living communities nearby and offer to take them on some tours. If they’re willing, great! But don’t push it. Drop the subject if they resist, and wait for another day to tackle this next step.
Wait for a “teachable moment” to present itself.Did Mom fall but manage to avoid getting badly hurt? Use that as a springboard. It’s up to you whether you bring up assisted living immediately after the incident or wait until a little time has passed. You may want to say something like, “Wow, that was a close call. I’m sure it was a very scary experience for you. Once you’re feeling better, maybe we could go look at the new assisted living center across town. I think we’d both feel better if you had people around in case something like this happens again.” Go with your gut on the timing, but use this unfortunate event as an opportunity to give your loved one a gentle reality check.
Ask for referrals.Ask around to see if anyone you know has a loved one who is already thriving in a local assisted living community. This is a great way to collect unbiased information that will help you narrow down your search. It’s even better if you find an ALF where one of your parent’s friends has already moved to. Just like your first day of school when you looked for a friend—any friend—who might be in your class, your parent would feel much better if there were a familiar face there.
Take tours.Even if they don’t know anyone in a specific facility, you can still take your parent to enjoy a meal or participate in an activity they enjoy. Show off the social aspects of a good ALF. Keep it light and don’t force the issue while you’re there. Tour more than one if possible, and ask your parent for their input. Do they prefer a larger community or the smaller ones? Does a new and modern style fit their personality, or would a slightly older, cozier facility be better? Which location’s food did they like best? Which one offers the most interesting schedule of activities and outings?
On tours, show interest in how much privacy residents have. Ask if your parent can furnish their own unit with items from home. Don’t forget to bring a measuring tape to help you both visualize how their new space could be set up and decorated. Demonstrate the same level of excitement you would if you were helping your parent move into a new apartment, because that’s exactly what you are doing.
Highlight the benefits.Stress the benefits and peace of mind that increased assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and safety measures will offer both of you. Highlight the fact that assisted living allows seniors to forgo daily chores and hassles so they can focus on things they actually want to do. There’s no yard work, but gardening activities are offered. Meals are available in the dining room, but some apartments feature kitchenettes so seniors can cook if they wish. There’s plenty of freedom to be alone, but company is just outside their door. You know your loved one best, so emphasize the aspects you know they’ll enjoy.
Let it all sink in.Give your loved one time to reflect on their current situation, how their health may change in the coming years, and the information they’ve received from you and the tours of prospective communities. This is a very serious decision that requires careful thought.
Arrange a family meeting.If your family is close-knit, arrange a casual meeting and tell Mom or Dad how much better everyone would feel if the move were made. Don’t make it seem like an intervention or a done deal that they have no say in. Allow everyone involved to discuss their concerns and anxieties about the current situation and a potential move. Try enlisting a family friend, doctor or spiritual leader to chat with your parent(s) and state the case for this move. Third parties can often make headway where family fails.
Understand there’s no reasoning with dementia.It is worth noting that loved ones who are experiencing cognitive decline may not recognize their limitations and therefore remain adamant about staying at home. Unfortunately for their families, there is no magic answer for how to move a parent with dementia to assisted living. No amount of rational thinking or negotiation will get someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia to change their mind. Dementia caregivers often resort to pressing the issue to ensure their loved ones are safe and well cared for, but the truth is that you generally cannot force a senior to move to assisted living unless they are deemed incompetent. In that case, a durable power of attorney (or guardianship) and some white lies are often necessary to place an obstinate loved one in the appropriate long-term care setting.
Be patient.Unless you consider your loved one’s need for ALF placement to be an emergency, don’t push. It’s hard to wait, but you will likely need to. If you want to broach the subject again, try waiting for an opportunity to offer assisted living as a solution to a problem your parent brings to you. For example, you might wait to say anything further until a very lonely day when Dad is bored and complaining about how he never sees his friends anymore.
Do your best to make your parents feel they are in control of their life and this decision because they are. As long as a senior is competent to make informed decisions about their own care, then there’s nothing more you can do. I’m sorry to say that many caregivers must wait for a fall, an accident or a medical setback to occur before their elders are willing to make the decision themselves. That is how it happened with my own mother.
Moving Elderly Parents to Assisted Living
This entire process can be very difficult for some older adults. Leaving a home full of memories is an emotional decision—even for seniors who are looking forward to assisted living—and downsizing when you have accumulated a lifetime of possessions is a lot to ask of someone. Be kind, be sensitive and try to make it be about your parent(s) and not about you. It will take some time for Mom and/or Dad to settle in to their new home, but they will probably enjoy the change once this transition period has passed