Having “The Conversation” With Your Aging Parents

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There are a lot of kids worrying about their parents right now. My own parents, and in-laws seem to be ignoring the guidelines for people 65 and over to remain at home.

Others are moving their parents in with them and trying to manage their care while coping with all the stressors of their own lives and the effect “shelter in place” and the Covid-19 virus are having.

At the beginning of “shelter in place”, our company, moved up a client who was living home alone and suffering from vertigo which caused her to fall four times. We agreed though she would be quarantined, it was best for her to be quarantined in a senior community.

While we were unpacking, her meal was delivered and was waiting for her when she got there.

Many of us have never really experienced the isolation many of our parents deal with especially as it becomes more difficult to leave the house due to low energy and physical challenges.

There are numerous studies written about social isolation and the negative effect it has on seniors’ health. This time is giving the rest of us a taste for it. I imagine after this period of time, more seniors who’ve been resistant to senior community living will be more open to the idea and more adult children will have a deeper understanding of how it feels.

As senior move managers, we are privy to the conversations going on between adult children and their parents about the decision around moving to senior community living.

The article below was first written in November, 2018 after receiving a call from an adult daughter who lived in New York and was concerned about her aging parents in San Diego.

I received a call today from an adult daughter who lives across country and is trying to convince her mother of why a move into a senior community is the right decision. Her mother lives in a two story home with stairs that meet a marble floor. The home, as is often the case, has fallen into disrepair because it becomes too difficult to maintain.

Parents, who might be embarrassed, proud and not wanting to cause worry, don’t let family know what’s happening. It’s often a visit around the holidays that illuminates the situation.

There’s a great book called “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” written by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s a book I read when I began my career in senior move management. Roz describes and illustrates her personal journey with her aging parents in a very real way. The gist of the book is that she wasn’t prepared for her parent’s aging and inevitable death. You believe they will live independently, get sick, go to the hospital and that will be it. The story for most is very different.

Aging in our culture is “the elephant in the room”. Our society is one to largely cast aside seniors where other cultures give them a place of honor, compounding the issue.

In American society, it seems it’s not okay to not be okay. The reality is, if we live long enough, we are going to face physical limitations. (At the very least.) While I’ve had 20/20 vision my entire life, at 48 I can barely read pill bottles with reading glasses and have to keep a magnifier in my kitchen.

So how do we bring up a subject that everyone seems to want to bury their heads in the sand about?

First of all, you have to let go of the guilt. Most of us are barely holding it together ourselves.

I’ve had people share their guilt about “putting their parents in a home”. The language we use and the opinions we’ve formed about senior living are based on the convalescent homes many of us remember as children . As someone who’s in senior communities on an almost daily basis, I can assure you this is not a place you should feel guilty about (at least for senior communities that are well run and have good reputations) . Visiting senior communities for yourself, making surprise visits and seeing all the benefits of senior living will help reframe your perception, alleviate much of your guilt and make it easier to discuss senior living with your family. Quite honestly there are communities I’d move into tomorrow.

The food is amazing and the social calendar would wear me out. (Even during the Coronavirus Pandemic, seniors who are in isolation are delivered hot, fresh meals and are given opportunities to socialize.)

Also, there have been many studies done on the benefits of socialization. Socialization reduces depression and anxiety and contributes to the overall lifespan.

Once you are clear about the benefits of senior living, focus on the “silver lining” when discussing it with your loved ones. For example, most communities offer most, if not all, meals. “Mom, you aren’t going to HAVE to cook.”

It’s also important to be aware of your language. Would YOU rather live in a “facility” or a “community”?

In Florida, they’ve just opened a Jimmy Buffet inspired community “Latitude Margaritaville”. There are professionals called Placement Agents who guide clients on the best places for a person’s interests and budget. In most cases, these services are FREE because they are compensated by the community from the first month’s rent.

After letting go of the guilt and reframing perception, we have to get to a place where we can talk about the inevitable. Acknowledge your own feelings as well as your parents feelings around what the move represents. Often times, adult children are facing their own fear and sadness around the loss of their parents, their childhood home and the shifting roles we take on as we become the next generation. Once you acknowledge these feelings, you open the door to authentic and vulnerable conversation

Lastly, sharing your personal concern for your parents makes a big difference. It is not easy to juggle your own responsibilities with the worry about your parents falling or being injured. Make sure you honor your parents. Let them know they have a say and don’t make the mistake of trying to “control” them. One of the hardest things about aging is the loss of independence. Help your parents be YOUR parent by explaining how their health and safety affects YOUR health and well being. (After all, we are conditioned to care for the health and safety of our children.)

​A great way to introduce the concept of senior living is sharing the Senior Savers show. It was inspired by our experience seeing the difference between seniors who made a proactive move into senior living versus those who waited too long to reap the benefits. It shows seniors how easy the transition can be especially the perception it will be hard to part with belongings and make the move.

One thing I know for sure, unless everyone is on board, the move will be difficult. If a fall or medical crisis occurs and a move becomes necessary, your parent will be dealing with the trauma of moving and the stress of healing.

In almost every case, when we go back and meet with the client after the move, their response is “I wish I’d done this sooner.”