Helping Your Parents Help Themselves

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning.” Ivy Baker Priest

The Way It Used to Be

The “greatest generation” grew up with a different model of senior care. The old model generally allowed the aging parent to stay safely at home with the help and support of family. But as times have changed, two fundamental supports of the old model have given way. No longer are families living entire lifetimes in the same cities. And women, who had once been primary caregivers to aging parents, are officially in the work force and no longer have the time to provide the kind of comfort, support, and care they once did to help aging parents remain in their lifelong homes. As a result, moving from one’s home to a senior care community has become more and more one of life’s chapters.  Helping your parents help themselves can make the move easier.

The Way It Is

Adult children whose parents are members of the “greatest generation” have critical roles to play as their parents begin to lose the ability to live safely and independently on their own. From recognizing the signals that a change in lifestyle is necessary and starting the conversation to picking the best community and facilitating the moving process, today’s adult children will face some difficult challenges as they strive to ensure their parents are living safely and healthfully. But by knowing what the common challenges are, and employing some simple and time-tested strategies to overcome them, adult children can help make the next chapters in their parents’ lives as comfortable and happy as the ones that preceded them.

Signs It’s Time to Move

Needless to say, timing is everything. With seniors, change happens rapidly. The change may be with memory, ability to drive, getting proper nutrition, socialization, or personal care. Adult children should watch for the signals that things are just not what they used to be. Can you give a positive response to the question “ Is my loved-one’s current living situation worry-free”? If not, it’s time to make a move.

Starting the Conversation

When an aging relative needs to move, just about everyone struggles to start the dialog. Family members feel guilty even though everyone agrees that a move to a senior community will enhance an aging parent’s life. Adult children must be involved throughout the process to ensure good decisions are made and that the transition is as painless as possible. There is no perfect approach to beginning the dialog because every individual is just that…an individual, with their own fears, biases, etc. Listening is the key. Is your loved-one lonely, fearful of falling, forgetting things? Use their concerns as a starting point for the discussion about making a change.

Making Good Decisions

Resources like Reddan’s Coastal Eldercare Directory are terrific at helping people understand the many different types of senior care services that are available to help aging parents, evaluate those services, and ultimately select the best option. Family physicians, the local Area Agency on Aging, churches, geriatric case managers, and the worldwide web can also help with the investigation and decision making process.

Overcoming Common Objections

Another challenge many adult children face is overcoming the perception held by their parents that a move from home is an ending, not a beginning. The “greatest generation” is still very resistant to change. Sensitivity, care, and communication are the critical components to helping parents help themselves and enabling them to see the wisdom of making a move to a senior care community. By focusing on the new opportunities that the senior community will bring, like making new friends, taking part in activities, and simplifying daily responsibilities and chores, adult children can help reframe the attitudes their parents hold and gently lead them to agree that a move to a senior community is the right idea.

The Greatest Challenge – Downsizing

Unfortunately, finding the best community and convincing a loved one to make the change are oftentimes the easiest parts of the process. All the research, discussion, and investigation may not completely alleviate the reluctance of so many people to make the change. The number one reason usually begins with, “I’m not ready,” and is followed closely by, “What will I do with all of my things?”

Never underestimate how attached people are to their possessions, and how daunting the prospect is of wading through it all to make decisions regarding its disposition. Many people, after making a commitment to move to a senior community, will delay the move, or even change their mind, when faced with reducing a lifetime of belongings. Forty to fifty years of collecting makes for mountains, not molehills.

Begin the downsizing process with family and involve the senior family member. Most parents want a say and should be gently consulted and led. With sensitivity, tact, and a sense of mutual cooperation, the family can decide what is best to save and what must go. Again, what people perceive as sentimental and valuable is different for everyone. Always respect people’s feelings as decisions are being made.

The family must step in and help with the both the downsizing and the move just as they did with the initial stage of searching for the best community. Working with your family members, you can help design simple floor plans, sort through those items that hold the most emotional or monetary value, pick what will fit in the new home, and plan for the disposition of the rest.

To complete the task at hand, you may need to contact antique dealers, thrift stores, consignment stores, and charities. Some moves may require all of these resources. With just a little organizing, it can take less than a week to “move the mountain.”

Get Ready for a “Moving Experience”

Studies have shown that moving to a new residence, even for the young and energetic, is one of the most stressful experiences in life. Imagine how overwhelming a move to a senior care community is for seniors who are already ambivalent about the process.

Generally, it works best if the new cottage/ villa/ apartment is set up before the senior moves in. The emotional and physical stress on elderly residents can be overwhelming when they have to move, unpack, and decorate by themselves. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and confused is not the best way to transition to a new life. Family involvement is once again critical at this final stage. If the family’s involvement cannot be hands-on, the selected community can help you identify local resources that to help coordinate, supervise, and execute the move.

The End is the Beginning With a little help, sensitivity, and communication, your loved one can begin this new chapter and truly enjoy it! Family members should get to know the Administrator and staff at the new community. They can and should serve as excellent points of contact that will help make the transition easier and ensure that you are informed regarding the health and well-being of your loved one. Finally, stay involved! Participate in the community’s activities, volunteer, visit often, and enjoy all the new friends you and your loved-one will make. Remember, it can be a great new chapter in your life, too!

About the Authors

Sean Doran is the Administrator at Riverside at Belfair Retirement Community in Bluffton, SC, and Katy Doran is the Community Relations Coordinator responsible for the marketing for Riverside at Belfair. Sean and Katy have more than ten years experience in the retirement business. Their experience includes both community management, marketing and regional management. Prior to moving to the beautiful Lowcountry of South Carolina, Sean earned his B.S. and M.S. in Training and Development from New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury, N.Y. Sean retired after 23 years from the NY Police Department where he taught for many years in the NYC Police Academy. Katy left a career in consulting and systems design when she relocated from New York. Katy is a graduate of Pace University with a B.B.A. in Accounting and Iona College, New Rochelle, NY, with an MBA in Finance. Both Sean and Katy love working with seniors, and look forward to each new day, “Every day is a new experience with so much to learn and so many new people to meet.”