I was speaking with a friend recently named John, whose mother-in-law (we’ll call her “Ruth”) is going through a rough time. Her husband passed away a few years back, and she is all alone in a three-bedroom house that sits on a quarter of an acre lot. In the past 6 months or so, she has started having health problems of her own.
Ruth is in her early 70s, and she is finding it increasingly difficult to move around. She has a hard time getting up and down the stairs, and her only daughter (John’s wife) is spending three or four days a week at her house helping her keep everything clean. Ruth’s daughter also takes her to doctor visits and drives her to work three days a week (yes, Ruth still works part-time for a major retailer).
When I asked John if they had discussed downsizing to a place that is more manageable, he cringed, looked down at the ground and said, “no, she has no plans to leave her house.” Ruth has lived in the same house for over 40 years. This is the house she raised her daughter in, and this is the community where all her friends live.
I could see the dilemma on John’s face; it is clear that something needs to be done about Ruth’s living situation, because her health is not likely to get any better. But how do you persuade someone who has no intention whatsoever of leaving “come hell or high water.” And if Ruth doesn’t leave, it will demand far more of her daughter’s time, energy, and perhaps money to keep Ruth safe and keep her current house maintained.
There are 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day, and countless families are dealing with the same issues John and his wife are confronted with. One of the biggest challenges in convincing an elderly individual or couple that it may be time for a change is fear of the unknown.
Seniors are naturally afraid to leave behind the home they have built their lives in to move to a nursing home or assisted living facility. They have all heard the horror stories of how poor the conditions are in many of these places, and that is the last place in the world where they want to spend their golden years.
Signs You May Need to Have “The Talk”
As the story of John and his mother-in-law Ruth demonstrate, aging parents are often the last ones to realize that they are no longer able to live safely by themselves at home. So the responsibility to inform them typically falls on the children.
Usually, there are signs of either physical or mental impairment that may indicate that it is time to talk about a change. In the case of Ruth, the problems are physical. Since she has trouble moving around, the house does not get cleaned and the grass does not get mowed unless her daughter and son-in-law come over and do it.
In many other families, there are signs of early stage dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These may include:
Being confused about dates and times;
- Forgetting to pay bills;
- Forgetting to take medications;
- Deteriorating personal hygiene;
- Slurred speech;
- Sudden changes in mood or behavior;
- Inability to solve problems;
- Increased difficulty with familiar tasks.
Approaching the Subject of Moving
Bringing up the idea of relocating is a difficult conversation for a child to have with a parent, especially when the parent loves the home so much. However, if you are starting to see signs of trouble ahead, it is important to begin having this conversation sooner rather than later. It is much easier to get your parent(s) situated in a new living situation long before a crisis hits, and you are suddenly forced to act quickly.
When bringing up the idea of a new living situation, it is important to be delicate and sensitive to the feelings of your aging loved one. One of the best approaches is to share something you love about the house and what it has meant to you. This often results in them letting their guard down as they engage in a conversation about a topic they love.
While discussing the house, you may want to mention some of your concerns, such as the cost to keep it up and how to ensure that they can stay safe. Ask what you can do to help them and make it very clear that you value their opinion about how to handle the situation.
It may take multiple conversations for them to get to the point where they acknowledge the need for a change. And in some cases, it may take a scary incident such as a fall or a burglar trying to break in for them to seriously consider other options.
Exploring Your Options
When it is clear that a senior parent can no longer be safely left alone, it does not necessarily mean they have to go to a nursing home or assisted living facility. Everyone has unique circumstances, and there are many resources and options available for today’s aging seniors.
For some families, it might be possible for the parent(s) to move in with one of the children or for one of their children to move in with them. If there are no children who can take on this type of responsibility, the family could hire an in-home caregiver.
Senior caregivers can take care of everything from meal preparation to light housekeeping to bathing to making sure they take their medication. This allows seniors to remain in the home they love and maintain a high quality of life as they age.
If you believe your parents need to make a change in their living situation, get all the stakeholders together as soon as possible to come up with a plan. The health of seniors can decline rapidly, and it is important to be proactive and ensure that your parents remain in a safe environment.