Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. For most of us, the feeling is less about how large or fancy a residence is than about it being a place where we feel safe and where we have created countless memories with those closest to us. Furthermore, we fill our homes with things we enjoy and belongings that remind us of loved ones and good times.
Now, put yourself in your parent’s shoes. They’ve likely lived in the same home for many years, but they’re getting older and their needs are changing. Mom or Dad is having trouble getting around, needs more help with activities of daily living (ADLs) and could probably use some more company. You know that a move to senior living would be wise, but you’re also well aware of the many obstacles that lie ahead on that path. Before jumping right in, do some soul searching and think carefully about how you plan to maintain compassion, boundaries and self-awareness throughout this transition process.
Broaching the Subject of Senior Living
How do you approach this difficult decision? Leaving the house behind will be difficult on your parent, but you also care about their health and safety. Talk it over with your spouse and siblings and check with friends or coworkers who may have already gone through this with their own parents. Consult a caregiver support group, staff at the senior living community you have in mind and any other resources that may be able to offer some sage advice.
It’s usually best to bring up the subject with your parent when things aren’t going so smoothly at home. Aim for a day when there are plumbing problems or when the bill is due for lawn maintenance. It’ll give you an opportunity to casually segue into the conversation rather than bringing it up out of the blue. Express your understanding of their desire to age in place but point out the importance of planning for the future and the benefits that come with moving. Don’t seek commitment right away, as it may appear you have already made the decision for them. Help your mom or dad feel that this matter is entirely in their control, and you’re just there for support.
Encouraging Tours of Senior Living
I took my mother to several assisted living facilities after our initial conversation. While looking at rooms, we discussed where she would put the things she wanted to keep to make the transition more seamless. I tried to keep her thoughts on the future more than the past, but this is not an easy task, especially when we are grappling with difficult emotions ourselves.
My mom enjoyed new things, so I talked a great deal about creating a comfortable new living space that would accommodate her needs. However, she also wanted to pay homage to the past, so I shared ideas for incorporating as many of her old favorite pieces of furniture and decor as possible in the new apartment. You know your loved one best, so follow their cues. If your parent embraces change, talk about purchasing a cozy new couch or recliner for their new home in senior living. If they’re more rooted in their routine and prefer to stay within their comfort zone, emphasize how you can mimic the layout of their current living room or bedroom in their new apartment. It’s all about balancing interest in the future with respect for the past.
The Act of Downsizing and Moving
A senior’s biggest dread (after moving out of their house) is usually the actual process of moving from point A to point B. Moving is daunting to people of all ages. The idea of sorting through, packing up, moving and unpacking everything we’ve collected over the years is overwhelming. For many seniors, downsizing is synonymous with purging. Collectors, those who hang on to sentimental items, depression-era savers and even hoarders are often immediately turned off by the possibility of having to rid themselves of even a few possessions.
Figuring out what to do with mementos and symbols that represent a life well-lived is a burdensome task for all involved. What to keep? What to get rid of? And how do we carry out the process with tact? Sometimes adult children are too close and therefore too frank or even impatient with their parents when it comes to processing furniture, clothing and other personal belongings. This can cause the whole process to grind to a halt.
Be respectful of your parent’s possessions even if you don’t understand why they value the things they do. The purging process is highly symbolic and very poignant for many seniors. They are essentially choosing what aspects of their past they are able to bring with them and which ones they must let go. Fortunately, there are professional senior movers who specialize in helping seniors declutter, downsize and relocate. They can help take some of the pressure and emotional pain out of this aspect of the move for both you and your mom or dad.
Handling a Parent’s Indecision
Moving out of a home one has lived in for decades is often akin to experiencing and mourning a loss. It’s a bit easier for someone who has done it in steps as my parents did. Fortunately, I didn’t have to talk my mom into a move from a life-long home that meant a great deal to her, because she and Dad had already downsized years earlier. However, Mom still had many items that had been in the family for decades and would never have fit in even the nicest assisted living apartment.
Commitment finally proved to be too much for her, though. Like many seniors, she was initially on board with the move, but then she began dragging her feet and eventually she cancelled at the last possible moment. Countless caregivers struggle with their loved ones’ indecision regarding the move to senior living. Aging parents typically understand the necessity but insist that the time has not yet arrived for such action.
The spectrum of emotions that is involved in agonizing over all the details, providing loving reassurance and then accepting a massive change in carefully laid plans is vast and unpleasant. It can be unbearably frustrating to go through this process only to backtrack and wait for an epiphany or a change in health to spur things along again. Meanwhile, worry about Mom or Dad’s wellbeing at home sets in again.
It’s much easier said than done but try to exercise patience as your parent vacillates between their living options. Offer a realistic picture of how much simpler it will be to navigate this transition earlier rather than later. However, understand that if they are of sound mind, they alone are responsible for deciding how and where to live. You may have to step back and bite your tongue until something changes.
After the assisted living debacle, my mom remained alone in her apartment while I handled all her errands and responded to “emergencies” day and night. Please understand that you do not have to be the sole alternative solution to senior housing. If you set boundaries early on, unlike I did, then your parent may realize that their current mode of living is neither safe nor sustainable for either of you in the long term.
Mom and I rode it out like this for a while until she had no choice but to skip assisted living altogether and move to a nursing home. This need for a higher level of care came sooner than we had expected, but you never can tell with seniors. A bad fall could warrant a move tomorrow, or they could remain in their house for the next 20 years—if your constant help is available. The unpredictability of an elder’s needs is precisely what necessitates early action.
Shouldn’t My Aging Parents Move in with Me?
The pressure to help a parent make the best possible senior living decision is complicated further by the nagging feeling many adult children have that our own homes should be an option. This is a highly individual decision that must factor in the needs of all affected parties (you, your parent, your spouse/partner, your children, your pets, etc.). Regardless of whether multigenerational living is a viable option, guilt abounds over even suggesting that a loved one move into assisted living or a nursing home.
Society insinuates that senior living is where elders go when they do not have any family or their relatives have “abandoned” them. The truth is that living with an aging parent is downright impossible for some families. Of those who try it, few find it to be a pleasant and successful long-term solution. Living together may delay the move to senior living, but it seldom prevents it entirely.
When a parent is no longer safe or engaged in their own home, caregivers are faced with difficult decisions and there’s no way around them. Increasing needs are an open declaration that a parent is aging. They must accept it and so must we. The move itself is physical proof, and it is often a serious blow to the entire family. All we can do is respect one another and strive to give our parents a safe and caring home, regardless of where it is located.
In Time, We All Adjust
Aging is not easy on seniors or the people who care about them, but what must be done eventually gets done. We bring up the possibility of a move. We address the amount of help we will be able to provide. We stress that we are still there for support but that changes must be made. We do research, take tours, assist with packing, and do our best to be strong and help our loved ones acclimate. We adjust and eventually our parents adjust, too. Many seniors are happier after they have settled into senior living, but that doesn’t make the process any less difficult.
There’s just no way to avoid this transition when it becomes necessary. The only way out is through. Moving from a person’s own home to a care facility of any kind is emotional. Acknowledge your parent’s pain as well as your own. If you and your elder are struggling too much, get third party help. Often a close friend, a religious leader or a paid counselor can offer support and fresh ideas to assist you both in looking to the future rather than solely dwelling on the past.