Remaining at home is the number one desire among the greatest number of elders. Staying in the family home is comfort, stability and gives nearly everyone a sense of freedom. But what happens when safety and health become a big issue and living alone becomes more than your parents can handle? These are issues that are best addressed before there’s a need. Waiting means you’ll probably have to make decisions during a crisis — the worst time possible! Unfortunately, most of us wait until a crisis because we just don’t feel comfortable discussing a move with our parents.
If you live near your parents and are able to visit often, you’ll have a better understanding of their current needs and more opportunity to talk to them about what they want concerning care and housing. If you live far apart, it will be best if you schedule a visit where you can both observe your parents’ current needs and talk to them about what they would want if things become impossible to handle. Having all your siblings present during this visit and conversation will be very helpful.
I’m an only child so this conversation falls on just me. My own parents are still wrestling with this question. Luckily their homeplace includes a studio apartment over the garage. The bad news is there are a lot of stairs and I don’t know how they would get along with someone living in their big house so close to them. Right now should they need to move to the apartment, they could probably manage the stairs, but not for long. These are the issues I need to talk more about with my own parents.
Talk to Your Parents
How are you parents doing? Are they still able to drive? Do they have trouble getting around their homes because of stairs? Are they able to take care of their home and yard maintenance? Do they manage their medications well? Is their health in good shape? Are they experiencing any dementia? In the field of gerontology, this is called an assessment of needs. The AARP website has an excellent check list that you can print out and use. It will help you fully understand your parents’ status.
If you find it hard to start the conversation about them, you might bring up a friend or neighbor’s situation. This will give you the opportunity to say, “What would you want to do, mom (or dad), if you couldn’t live here any longer?” or “How long do you think you’ll be able to take care of your home without help?” Most elders, indeed, most people, wish to live in their homes for as long as possible. If your parents are still doing well, it might be a great time to look their home over and make adjustments so they can stay put for as long as possible.
It’s very important that you ask them, “What if you can’t stay in your own home? This is a hard thing to discuss because we all cherish our independence. Will your parents want to live with you or one of your siblings? Is this a practical solution and one that’s agreeable with all parties? If not, you’ll need to discuss what kind of housing would suit them. There are so many options now available. Senior apartments, assisted living, retirement communities with private homes are also an option. The internet can be a valuable tool for finding out what is available in the area your parents wish to live. It’s often suggested that you and your siblings visit prospective communities before you take a parent along. You’ll be able to “weed out” inappropriate places and not tire your parent out with many trips.
It is vital for you to understand your parents’ finances and health care insurance benefits so you can know all their options. Do they have long term care insurance? What is their monthly income? How much do they have in savings? What are their monthly expenditures? You also need to know where all their important documents are kept in case of a crisis. This is also a good time to have them fill out a medical directive so their wishes will be honored if they are unable to speak for themselves.
These are all touchy issues, so start out with a positive. Let your parent know how much you love them and that you want to be able to accommodate their needs now and in the future. Sometimes the best way to help them understand their options is to take them for tours of their local senior communities.