As summer approaches and more and more Americans are fully vaccinated, we are seeing a sharp increase in the number of people who are travelling to see family, some of whom haven’t seen one another in well over a year.
With these reunions, adult children may be confronted with an unwelcome reality: Their elderly parents’ health, mobility, or mental state has deteriorated since they last saw one another, raising concerns about the safety of them living on their own. This realization can necessitate some rather difficult parent-adult child conversations and some may wonder how to constructively talk with parents about senior housing options.
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The two basic senior living options
I am often asked about ways to talk with an aging loved one about the best living arrangement for them in the long-term. Depending on the person, it can be a sensitive topic to broach.
Typically, this conversation revolves around two main options: remaining in the existing home or considering some type of a senior living community. Both parties — adult child and aging parent — can have strong opinions about which of these scenarios is the best for their situation.
For instance, an adult child who lives far away may feel that a practical long-term solution is for their aging parent(s) to move somewhere like a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community). This would provide their parents with access to a continuum of care services, if and when they need them. This choice can offer great peace of mind for both parent and adult child. (Although there are also situations where the senior adult wants to move to a CCRC and the adult kids say they don’t think they’re old enough.)
On the other hand, survey after survey reveals that most seniors want to remain in their own home for as long as possible as they grow older. And it’s understandable why people would feel this way. They are comfortable in their existing home (at least for the time being). It is familiar, and for many, they have a lifetime of fond memories associated with their home. It can be difficult to imagine leaving a beloved house.
“I don’t want to be a burden, but…”
But there is another important data point to factor into this equation. Surveys also show that anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of seniors say they don’t want to be a burden to their families. Every situation is different, but when a senior’s health deteriorates or their ability to maintain their home wanes, the responsibility for dealing with the issue oftentimes falls upon the shoulders of adult children.
This fact creates an interesting dichotomy: Most seniors want to remain in their existing home, which, in some cases, can lead to dependence on family members to deal with potential care needs and home upkeep, and yet seniors don’t want to burden their loved ones.
Even if in-home caregivers are hired to help with health or personal care needs, and property maintenance services (like housekeepers, landscapers, handymen, etc.) are brought in to address home upkeep, coordination and management of these providers will commonly fall to family members. And this is to say nothing of the cost of such service providers, which, depending on the situation, can reach well into the thousands of dollars each month.
>> Related: The Challenge of Long-Distance Caregiving
Dealing with the unexpected
There is another important consideration that people sometimes overlook when weighing remaining in the existing home versus relocating to a CCRC or other retirement community: emergency situations.
You can arrange to have in-home care help with activities of daily living (ADLs); you can coordinate someone to change lightbulbs and cut the lawn. But unless you have a 24/7 in-home caregiver, it is nearly impossible to address every potential emergency scenario that might arise.
Things like a serious fall or a sudden health crisis don’t always wait for the part-time in-home health aide to arrive. This often creates an emergency situation that no one in the family is truly prepared to deal with, especially if loved ones don’t live nearby. It can also lead to families having to make excruciating decisions about where and how their loved one will be cared for.
None of this is to say that remaining in the home can’t be done and done well. There are fantastic caregiving agencies and other community resources that can enable seniors to stay in the home they love, no matter what their care needs may be. But, these are important considerations as seniors and their families weigh their long-term senior living options.
Initiating the talk with parents about senior housing options
So, this leads us back to the original question: How do you constructively talk with parents about senior housing options without seeming critical, confrontational, or like you’re trying to force them to do something they don’t want?
I believe the best approach is to have a constructive conversation that may start something like:
“I understand that you want to stay in your home, and I respect that. It’s a home you love, it’s familiar, and you’re comfortable here. What would be the expectation for you [the aging parent or loved one], as well as for me [the adult child or family member], if this [fill in the blank health or care need scenario, be it sudden or gradual] were to happen? What would you want? What would we do in that situation?”
It can be helpful to point to an example of another family’s experience or an article you’ve read on the topic. You want to try to think of all the various “what ifs.” Even if someone is seemingly healthy today, things happen, and that can change in an instant — or more gradually.
But the bottom line is, it’s really important to talk through such scenarios now in order to hopefully avoid some really difficult situations down the road. If both parties can’t answer these sometimes-tough questions, then all senior living options should remain on the table.
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