It’s not always easy to talk with an aging parent or loved one about a need for additional help that may lead to a move out of the family home, but ignoring the issues at hand won’t make them go away.  Delaying the conversation may put a parent’s health, safety or well-being at risk, while their healthcare needs and your own stress level as a caregiver escalate. 

An AARP survey shows that most older adults feel better about having this kind of discussion when things are going well, as part of planning their future.  Too often, families wait to have such discussions until after a parent has had an unexpected health issue or crisis, such as a fall, accident or medical emergency, and is no longer able to take care of themselves. The urgency at this time causes increased stress and uncertainty when the clock is ticking, care options are limited, and significant decisions have to be made quickly.  

 “Often I hear residents and their family members say they should have made the move to a senior care community much earlier, not later,” said Mattie Scheidecker, Licensed Social Worker at the Benedictine Living Center of Wahpeton, a leading provider of senior care services including independent and assisted living, long-term skilled nursing care, short-term rehabilitation, and outpatient therapy.  “Having a conversation early and making a move when a loved one is still in good health means he or she can fully enjoy all the benefits a senior community has to offer, including staying active, making new friends, and taking part in a wide variety of social, recreational and wellness opportunities.  Such benefits have been shown to enhance healthy aging and enable older adults to remain independent and live a better quality of life longer.”

Being proactive instead of reactive will help you have thoughtful discussions and ensure families have a plan in place should a loved one’s health situation change unexpectedly.  Selecting a “continuum of care” facility lets adult children choose the best care option for mom or dad for the time being, such as independent living at a facility, while looking ahead to assisted living or access to a higher care level at the same community should the need arise down the road.  

Your loved one may resist a conversation about a possible change in their living environment or the need for additional help, preferring to pretend that life is as normal as it has always been for them.  

In such situations, experts advise:

• Talk with them about the many benefits – including an active lifestyle; opportunities to focus on personal interests and needs; socialization and security; and freedom from the hassles of homeownership and home maintenance – that these settings provide.

• Respect their feelings if they make it clear they want to avoid the subject, then make a mental note to return to the conversation at a more suitable time.

• Pursue the issue if their health or safety is at risk, yet recognize their right to be in charge of their own life.

• If you decide you simply must intervene, act firmly, but with compassion: “Dad, we can’t ignore this any longer, we must deal with the situation.  I’m here to help.”

• Involve other people your parents respect, such as a trusted friend, doctor or pastor.

• Hold a family meeting so everyone can discuss concerns and jointly develop a mutually agreeable plan.  Once your loved one has agreed to at least consider the idea of seeking additional support, possibly in a continuing care senior community, research your options and learn everything you can about what life will be like for your loved one if a move is the answer.

Moving to an independent or assisted living community can be one of the best decisions a family can make for an aging parent, particularly when social interaction and maintenance-free living are desired, activities of daily living become more than they can handle, or their care needs are more than family members can provide.  Starting the conversation early will make your loved one’s transition into their next phase of life easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved.  

Pam Meyer, Wellness Director, BLC-Wahpeton

(References: Loverde, Joy.  The Complete Eldercare Planner.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.  Solie, David, M.S., P.A. How to Say It: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 2004.)

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