Mary has always taken care of her Mom and Dad so that they could stay in their home even as they got older – it began as a few trips a week, and then it became once a day – and now she is spending as much time as she can “helping out”. Mary’s job is very demanding lately, and the last time when she stopped at her parent’s house after the dinner hour, they hadn’t eaten and both seemed confused and upset.
One day while Mary was at work, her Dad’s neighbor called and told her that her father was wandering around the yard looking confused and worried. The neighbor had gone over to ask if everything was all right and found out that Mary’s father had locked himself out of the house and her mother was nowhere to be seen. Mary left work immediately to drive to their house and found Dad slumped on the porch waiting for Mary while her Mom was asleep in an armchair inside.
After getting her Dad to settle down, Mary asked “Dad, do you think it might be time to get some help? Maybe you could move into a place where they can take care of you and Mom?” Mary’s father scowled. “We’re not moving.”
How do you begin the conversation with a determined senior about moving to an assisted living or memory care community? When is the right time to talk about making a change? It’s common for seniors to be optimistic about their own ability to care for themselves without outside help, and explaining the need for this help can be the hardest part of being a child. Memory loss and dementia can make these issues even more difficult.
Experts suggest that it’s important to begin discussing senior care options as soon as possible, long before there is a need to consider it as an immediate option. This is the best way to find out what your parents would like to have happen and what things are important to them when they are ready for senior living options. It’s also helpful to start the conversation early as it may remove some of the stigma associated with being “put in a home” and allow the entire family to see the transition positively. This is also great time to discuss power of attorney and to set up a regular meetings and talks about these matters. It is much easier to deal with health issues if parents and children both know what to do BEFORE a crisis occurs.
So what happens when it is time to move into a senior living community? Very few people want to admit that they or a loved one may be impaired, and loved ones do not want to be a burden. It can be very hard for a senior to admit that they are having difficulty caring for themselves. This can be even more difficult if a child starts telling their parents about what should happen as commands – “You should do this, you don’t know what you want” is what many parents may hear when their children start discussing senior living options.
Explain That You Care
Loved ones and children should make seniors aware that the intention is to protect and serve them by doing everything possible to make sure that senior care provides the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible. When a parent or loved one realizes that the goal is to enhance their lives and ensure their well-being, it’s much less difficult for them to appreciate help and move positively toward the life change they are about to undertake.
But what do you do when a parent is resistant and refuses to move? Mary’s father said many times while she was growing up that he “would die before moving to a home where they wipe my behind and feed me with a soon”. His idea of a home was a vision of his own failure and decline, and he would not accept that vision for himself.
He shouldn’t have to. The best way to overcome the fear of an assisted living community is to take your senior to visit a senior living community to make the choice for themselves. Most of us have a very different idea of what assisted living and memory care facilities look like than is true, and by visiting with your loved one you allow them to inspect for themselves. You also let your senior know that you want to be part of their lives and that you are interested in their care. It’s okay if they don’t like every community they visit – allowing a senior to choose give them confidence in the decision they are about to make.
Let Your Loved One See For Themselves
If your parent is very stubborn and refuses to choose assisted living, you have no choice but to give them space and allow them to decide in their own time. During the entire process you’ll want to reaffirm that they have control and the right to decide for themselves, even when you don’t agree with them. Sometimes the best thing you can do is allow them to continue to try to take care of themselves on their own. Experts say the hardest thing to convince adult children to do is to allow their parents to fail until the parent realize that senior care is necessary. Sometimes it’s a good idea to hire a home hospice worker. An outside perspective allows parents to see their situation more clearly, and also allows family caregivers access to an outside opinion. Seniors often take advice better from doctors and health care providers than from family and loved ones, so it is wise for family members to remove themselves from care and allow professionals to help illustrate the need for aid.
Mary finally told her Dad that she just didn’t have the time to take care of them the way they should be. She called a “home care” nurse – the family couldn’t afford a full time nurse long term, but she hoped that the nurse would evaluate her parents and help her talk them into searching for a senior living community. Dad was hesitant at first – “We don’t need hired servants. We’ve always done for ourselves!” But Mom talked him into it – “You have never liked helping me in the kitchen, and maybe the nurse could help when you can’t” – and the nurse came every day for a week.
A week later, Mary came by after work to meet with her parents and the nurse. The nurse had already told Mary that her parents were really in need full time help – apparently her father kept leaving his keys in unpredictable places and had stopped locking the house altogether to keep from locking himself out, among other bad habits – and Mary wanted her there when she talked to her parents.
To her relief, Mary’s Dad said, “I know why we’re all here. We need help. And I’m sorry, Mary. We’ve been leaning on you a lot. If you want to go look at a nice senior community, we’ll go look with you. But you have to visit us – you can’t just drop us off forever to die!”
When your senior begins to show interest in looking for an assisted living community, remind them that all decisions are up to them, that you are here to support and help as they make the right decision. Many assisted living facilities are happy to allow a senior to stay for a month to decide if they are in the right place – remind them of this so that they are aware that they have the right to make the best decision for them at all times.
Lean on Family
If you are lucky enough to have family who are willing to help, involve as many of them as possible in your senior’s care. Extra care from family not only makes the transition easier for the senior, but also relieves the burden of a single child. Connecting with others and with family will also help your senior to feel less “put away” and will help them to get used to a new lifestyle. Interaction between family members and senior community team also helps to make senior care more effective and specifically tailored to your loved one.
Be careful that you get siblings and family on the same page – you want your senior to feel positive and optimistic about the move. Nothing can make a resistant parent more reluctant than a disgruntled family member.
Mary’s sister, Diana, has lived in California, all the way across the country, for 15 years. She doesn’t talk to her parents very often – she has a very busy life and 4 kids, a full time career, and she and her family travel a lot. Diana drops in twice a year and always says Mom and Dad look just great. When Dad called her and said that Mary had talked about putting them in a home, Diana was upset. “You guys are fine! You pay the bills, you can mow the lawn, why do you need help?!” She called Mary angrily, and when Mary tried to explain, Diana said “You’re just tired of taking care of them. You always were selfish.”
Believe in Your Intentions
It’s very important to remind yourself, as well as your parent, that what you are doing is what you believe is best for your senior. You shouldn’t feel selfish or guilty. Many seniors are much happier after they move – they make new friends and try new activities, hygiene improves, and they eat better, more regular meals. It is easy for other family members who don’t actually perform the day-to-day care of your senior to assume that you are being melodramatic, but you know better and should trust yourself. Instead, realize that you’ve been working so hard and are doing such a good job that others don’t notice how hard things have become for everyone. Explain to your family that you and your parents are both having trouble, and that while you are grateful to have been able to help, you are stretched beyond your abilities and cannot care for them properly any longer.
Mary and her Dad went to a few places before he fell in love with their new home. She worried about them even though they said they wanted to go – Mom cried when they closed up the house, and Dad was very quiet on the day they moved into their home. Mary cried a little, too – it was the end of a long era in that family house – but she smiled at the thought of visiting her happy parents in the sunny new game room at the assisted living community clubhouse.
A month later, Dad called. “I learned how to paint today! I’m an oil painter!”
“That’s great, Dad! What did you paint?”
“It’s a lake, the lake outside our living room. Your mother says it’s a masterpiece!”
“I’m sure she’s right, Dad.”