Aging adult living changes
When my mother was 89, she was living in her own apartment in a retirement community. She could no longer drive (she passed out at the wheel due to an episode of low blood pressure and careened into a tree. Fortunately, only the car was seriously injured). When I came to visit her, I noticed that her shelves were lined with canned soup. She sheepishly told me that most nights that’s all she was eating.
I started talking to her about moving into a local independent living center, where she would have her own apartment as well, but be able to enjoy congregate dining. The complex had all kinds of entertainment and classes that were just an elevator ride away. She was hesitant. The idea of moving was simply overwhelming.
I continued to talk to her about moving for the next few months, and during my next visit, I took her, with a couple of friends, on a tour of the complex. We had a meal there and I could see that my mother was starting to warm up to the idea. Still the very thought of moving was daunting. I reassured her I would take care of the entire move, from start to finish.
Just before her 90th birthday, she moved into the facility. My daughter and I helped her make the move. She spent the last year of her life there, enjoying the companionship of other older adults, many lively meals, and activities that she wouldn’t have been able to participate in otherwise. She often thanked me for helping her make this move possible.
It’s tough for older adult to make timely transitions into new living situations. All too often, these happen during a crisis, as a result of a hospitalization or an accident. Change for the elderly can feel insurmountable. It seems easier for them to stay in an environment that they know, even if they are unable to manage.
How can adult children help our elderly parents make these changes, before a crisis?
Discuss these issues long before they’re necessary. During my mother’s early 80’s, I had periodic conversations with her about when she might consider moving to a different venue. She was doing fine in the retirement community at that time, but she understood that her functional capacity would eventually decline. It’s helpful to set the stage for change.
Be persistent. It took me several months of gentle discussions to keep my mother’s attention on this subject. I simply didn’t give up, even in the face of resistance.
A tour is worth a thousand words. A tour of the independent living community sealed the deal. She saw people her own age, engaged, and content. It helped her see, in a more immediate way, that this could work for her.
Make it easy for your parent. My mother was reassured that I would take care of the all of the moving details—including packing, unpacking, and making the arrangements. She had a difficult first day at her new digs, but she felt supported by her son and granddaughter.
Be patient. This is a huge change for an elder. Be patient, kind, and sensitive to your parent. It’s difficult to find yourself in a situation where your children start to act like your parents.
As for me, when my kids tell me it’s time to move, I’m going to listen. When they tell me it’s time to hand them the keys to my car, I’m going to hand them over. I trust my daughters. I recognize that older adults tend to minimize their need for change, sometimes until it’s too late. I don’t want that to be me.