Mary had taken care of her Mom and Dad for several years so that they can stay in their home as they get older – at first it was a few trips a week, then once a day – and now she is at the house every second she’s not at work or sleeping. Mary’s job has been getting more demanding as she takes on more responsibility and gets promoted, and recently when she stopped at her parent’s house later than usual, they hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and were confused and upset.
Then on Thursday, while Mary was at work, she got a call from her parents’ neighbor that her Dad was wandering around the yard looking upset and frightened. The neighbor had asked him if everything was all right and found out that Mary’s father had locked himself out and Mary’s mother was nowhere to be found. Mary left work early and drove to their house to find Dad looking defeated on the porch while Mom snored in an armchair inside.
After she got her father settled inside, Mary said “Dad, maybe it’s time to get some help. Maybe you can move into a place where they can take care of you and Mom?” Mary’s father frowned. “We’re not moving.”
How do you express your worries and begin the conversation with a stubborn senior about assisted living and memory care? When is the right time to start talking about a change? This is often one of the most difficult parts of loving and caring for a senior. It is not uncommon for seniors to be overly optimistic about their own ability to take care of themselves without outside help. Memory loss and dementia can make these issues even more challenging.
Get Started Today
Experts suggest that the most important thing you can do is to begin discussing senior care options as soon as possible, long before you need to consider it seriously. This is the best way to learn what your parents will want and what is most important to them when the time comes that they need senior living options. Start the conversation early – it eliminates the stigma associated with being “put in a home” and allow the family to see the transition positively. This is also a good time to talk about power of attorney. Set up a regular discussion about these matters – it will be much easier to deal with health issues when both parents and children know what to do BEFORE a crisis occurs.
What happens when it’s time to make the move into a senior living community? No one likes to admit that they or a loved one may be not be able to meet their own needs, or worse, that they might be a burden. It is often difficult for a senior to admit that they having trouble taking care of themselves. This becomes even more difficult if a child begins to give commands parents about what should happen – “You should do this, you don’t know what you want” is all how this sounds to many parents when their children discuss senior living options.
Tell Them You Care
Remember to make seniors aware that the intention is to protect and serve the senior by doing everything possible to ensure that loved ones live the longest, healthiest, happiest lives possible. Once a parent or loved one realizes that your goal is to enhance their lives for the better and secure their well-being, it’s much easier for them to accept the discussion and appreciate the new steps they are about to take.
How do you approach a parent who is resistant and refuses to move? Mary’s father has said ever since she was a child that he “would die before moving to a home where they wipe my butt and feed me with a spork”. His idea of a home was a vision of failure and degeneration, and he could not accept that vision for himself.
And he doesn’t have to. The easiest way to ease the apprehensions about assisted living is to take your senior to visit a senior living community. Many of us have no real idea about what assisted living and memory care facilities look like today. By going with your loved one to look at these communities, you can communicate to your senior that you want to be part of their lives and that you are interested in their care. It’s all right if they don’t like every community they visit – giving them options to choose from helps them to feel confident about the decision to move.
If a parent is really stubborn that they will never choose assisted living for themselves, you have no choice but to leave the issue alone and allow them to decide for themselves. During this entire process you want to reaffirm that they have every right to decide for themselves at every step along the way, even if you don’t agree with those decisions.
Let Them Decide
Sometimes the only thing you can do is allow them to continue to try to care for themselves without your help. Experts say that it is very difficult to convince adult children to allow their parents to fail until they realize that senior care is necessary. It has been suggested that it’s a good idea to hire a home hospice worker. This can give parents a clearer view of their situation and also allows family caregivers to get an outside opinion from someone with experience. Seniors often take advice better from doctors and health care providers than they do from family and loved ones, so it’s a good idea wise for family members to remove themselves from care and allow professionals to help communicate the need for assistance.
Mary finally told her Dad that she just couldn’t take care of her parents as well as they deserved. She called a “home care” nurse – Dad insisted that they couldn’t afford a full time nurse forever, but Mary hoped that the nurse would help her to evaluate her parents and help her talk them into searching for a senior living community. Dad was not a fan at first – “We don’t need hired help. We’ve always done for ourselves!” But Mom talked him into it – “You won’t help me in the kitchen, and maybe the nurse will” – and the nurse was arranged to stay for a week.
After that week, Mary came to the house to meet and talk with her parents and the nurse. The nurse had already let Mary know that she felt that Mary’s parents needed full time help – apparently her father had begun leaving his keys in strange places and then couldn’t find them. He had stopped locking the house altogether to keep from locking himself out, among other bad habits – and she wanted the professional nurse there when she talked to her parents.
Mary was relieved when her Dad said, “I know why we’re all here. We can’t take care of ourselves the way we used to. And I’m sorry, Mary. We’ve been leaning on you a lot. If you want to go look at a few of those retirement home thingies, we’ll go look with you. But you had better visit us – you can’t just drop us off and forget us!”
If your senior shows interest in considering an assisted living community, continue to remind them that all decisions are completely up to them, and that you are only here to support them. A lot of assisted living facilities allow a senior to stay as a trial for a month to decide if they are in the right place – remind your loved one of this so that they are aware that they have the right to make the best decision for them at any time.
Enlist Family for Support
If you have family who are willing to help, involve as many of them as you can in your senior’s decision. This extra attention from family not only helps ease the transition for the senior, but it also makes it easier for the adult child who cares for them. Connecting with others and with family helps your senior to feel less “put away” and isolated, and will help them to adjust to a new lifestyle in a new home. In addition, interaction between family members and the staff of the senior community helps to make senior care services more effective and tailored to your loved one.
Be careful to get siblings and family on the same page during this time – you want your senior to feel positive and optimistic about the decision, and nothing can make a hesitant parent more resistant than a disgruntled sibling or family member stirring trouble.
Mary’s sister, Diana, lives in southern California, all the way across the country from Mary and her parents. Diana doesn’t talk to her parents very often – she has a very busy life including 4 kids, a career, and a lot of international travel. So she drops in once a year and always remarks how great Mom and Dad look. When Dad called her to tell her that Mary wanted to put them in a home, Diana was angry. “You guys are fine! You get the bills paid, you take care of the yard, what makes Mary think you need help?!” She called Mary outraged, and when Mary tried to explain, Diana said “You’re just tired of taking care of them. You always were selfish and lazy.”
Believe in Your Intentions
Remind yourself as well as your parents that you are doing what you believe is best for them from a place of love and concern. You have no reason to feel selfish or guilty about helping them to live a better life. Many seniors are much happier when they move – they have new friends and interesting activities, hygiene improves, and they eat better, more regular meals. It can be easy for worried relatives and siblings who don’t actually deal with the day-to-day care of your senior to assume that you are exaggerating about how much they need help, but you know better and you need to trust yourself. What disgruntled family members are really saying is that YOU are doing such a good job that they don’t notice how difficult things have become for everyone. Explain to family that you and your parents are both having trouble, and that while you are thankful to have been able to help your parents, you are unable to give them the care that they need and you are afraid they will suffer for it.
Mary and her Dad went to look at a few places before he fell in love with their new home in a senior living community outside of town, not a long drive from where Mary lives. Mary was worried after they moved because Mom cried when they closed up the house, and Dad was very quiet on the day they moved into their new apartment. Mary had cried a little, too – it was the end of a long era in that house, they’d hadn’t lived anywhere else since Mary was born – but she smiled when she thought of visiting her happy parents in the sunny new lounge at the senior living community clubhouse.
A month later, Mary’s Dad called. “Guess what! I learned how to paint today! I’m an oil painter!”
“That’s great, Dad! What did you paint?”
“I painted the lake, you know, the lake outside the new living room. Your mother says it’s a masterpiece!”
“I’m sure she’s right, Dad.”