Tips & Picks

How to Handle When It Is Time For Your Parent to Move

If you are a baby boomer the chances are there is a new topic at your cocktail parties - war stories on the struggle to care for elderly parents. Persuading aging parents or relatives that it is time to move to some type of facility (independent living, assisted living, retirement home, nursing home, etc.) is excruciating for the parents and exasperating for the children. If you watched "The Sopranos" on HBO, just think of what Paulie went through with his mother! This article will attempt to give some ideas on how to cope with this complex challenge.

Helen Peterkin, our dear friend of sparkling personality and a certain age, is our personal hero on this subject. She and her husband, Gordon, acted decisively when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the early 1990's. Gordon, whose father also had the disease, saw his future and announced that they had to move to an assisted living facility. Helen cried at the prospect of moving out of their lovely home, so he gave her another year. Then they moved to Evergreen Woods, a top-notch facility in Branford, CT. The couple was able to live together for a few years in their beautiful and spacious apartment there, until the progression of Gordon's disease meant he had to be moved to the health center. Economically their decision was a smart one: his extensive health needs were taken care of at no extra cost. But socially it was the right move too. Helen made friends and built a rich life in her new community. Since Gordon's death Helen has soldiered on, traveling the world and continuing to play an impressive game of golf. Recently she was kind enough to share observations about what she has seen as her friends have had to face a life change.

Helen's experience with her senior friends is similar to that of many of us - it is very difficult to get the elderly to admit that it is time to move, and even then to take the steps that will get them into a good facility. Helen is quite definite that every time she has seen a couple wait too long, "it has been a disaster". What that usually means is that when one or the other of the couple becomes seriously ill, they either can't get into the facility of their choice, they have to pay a premium of several thousand dollars per month, or they have to settle for the least attractive facilities and/or units. Stress levels rise and families are disrupted as worried children scramble to research and gain admittance for their parents into the right kind of facility.

Roberta Isleib Experience - It Takes Two to Tango
"My paternal grandparents planned carefully for their own decline", says clinical psychologist Dr. Roberta Isleib. "They moved from their retirement home in Bradenton, FL to an assisted living facility nearby. My grandmother, still spunky until she died at 92, insisted on referring to the other residents as "inmates." But both seemed satisfied with their choice, especially when my grandfather became ill and had to spend his last weeks in the infirmary. My father has always had this model in mind. Unfortunately he was hit by a car last year; a disaster which accentuated his deterioration from Alzheimer's and made him ineligible for an affordable assisted living facility. His wife did not want to move to a facility, so since his accident we have struggled with how to choose the best facility to care for him near her home".

The Bionic Parents - We're Not Ready... Yet
This editor's parents are in the 90's and up to recently in near perfect health, playing golf and bridge almost every day. But since no one lasts forever we children have been trying to persuade them to move from their retirement community in Fort Myers FL, to an assisted or independent living community near most of their children in Connecticut. All of our entreaties have fallen on deaf ears - with concerns cited such as "having to move in with all the old people", or "where would we play golf". Now that my father has a serious health condition they have finally put down a deposit at an independent living facility in Ft. Myers - but they haven't moved in yet!

A How-to Persuade the Parents Checklist
Please note that these ideas are just suggestions. Every family's situation is different and requires individual approaches. The forces keeping seniors from moving out of their homes are real and powerful. There are many kinds of success - so be reasonable, persistent, and hopeful.

1. Start early. Don't wait for the first sign of health deterioration

2. Be consistent. If it looks like they will need help soon, be honest and keep presenting a consistent message. Try to get all family members on the same message - you don't want Suzy promising to take care of them if Don thinks they need to enter a facility

3. Act on Bad News. When the elderly get sick they are often more able to see more clearly what is in store for them ahead. A situation like that might provide a good time for discussion

4. Visit facilities now. Take your loved ones around to facilities now. You will like some, and your parents will like others. Having an idea of where they would like to go will help

5. Get them to visit their friends who've moved. The visit with the marketing people is one thing, which most people view skeptically. But if you or they have friends who live in a facility, have them invite your folks over for a meal or social event. Seeing the good life in person can overcome a lot of negativity and doubt
6. Make a deposit. This is an insurance policy. For a small deposit most assisted living facilities or continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) will guarantee a spot for your loved ones for a certain period, IF they can pass a medical exam at that time. Even if they don't ultimately decide to move in they will at least have somewhere to go if (and when) disaster strikes

7. Be understanding - but firm. Leaving their homes and giving up privacy and independence is a traumatic step, so don't ignore those feelings. But on the other hand be firm about your capabilities and intentions. If you cannot care for the parent, either in theirs or your own home, say so. As Helen Peterkin told us, the power of a child saying "I can't take care of you anymore" can be the tug that brings about change

8. Stress the positive. Helen's advice on this point was great. Take your parents to a facility. Once they see what a good time everyone is having socially, with so many friends and things going on so close, they will want to move. She adds this is particularly effective with single women, who often face the triple problems of social isolation, declining ability to drive, and ready access to good medical care
9. It's not your decision. Remember that this is ultimately your parents' choice--regardless of your strong opinions and preferences

10. There may be other, better options. Consider that there may well be other and better options for your loved one. For example in-home care might be possible, keeping them in their normal home and avoiding a traumatic move. And of course, some parents live quite happily with one of their children.
What are your tips' Please give us your comments in the Discussion Forum at

References: Check out the excellent eBook by Ryan Malone: "For Families, By Families Guide to Assisted Living"

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