Episode 44 -
Watching our loved one’s age is never easy. We want them to remain strong, capable, and independent – and they want the same for themselves. They might feel frustrated when they can no longer move around the way they used to – when stairs are more strenuous to climb, meals are harder to cook, hygiene is more difficult to keep up with.
We can’t always be there to help – we might not live in the area or just simply don’t have the ability. Not to mention, our parents and grandparents yearn for independence and could be resisting any help offered. But maybe the best way to be independent, is to get a little bit of help. Yes, that might sound like an oxymoron, but the reality is this: if a person has help with everyday tasks, they have more time to focus on things that matter to them – and they’re safer.
It’s important to remember that aging is a natural and inevitable process, and that as we watch our parents or grandparents get older, we need to embrace a new way of life that allows them to thrive – even if they need a bit more help than they used to. At some point, that might mean helping them transition from independent living to assisted living or a nursing home. It’s not always obvious when it’s time to make that transition – and in some cases it might seem like an extreme choice to your parents, even if you know that it’s time.
Ultimately, though, assisted living or other types of elderly housing will help your parents to feel safer, more comfortable, and hopefully even happier – as they can shift their attention to doing things they love again (just with a little help).
In assisted living facilities, our parents or grandparents can have access to the help they need. Whether they are still relatively independent, and just need some help with mobility, or if they need help with tasks like bathing and eating – they will find that an assisted living facility is there for them, so they no longer have to face these difficulties alone.
Assisted living also offers a new community to our parents or grandparents – a place where they can meet and make friends with people who are going through what they are. According to the US Census, 11 million seniors live in isolation – which could be affecting their health. Socialization can prevent depression, provide stimulation, strengthen memory, and even help them live longer.
According to Lisa Berkman, who led a study by the Harvard School of Public Health on socialization and aging, “people with many social ties have lower mortality rates. We now have mounting evidence that strong social networks can help to prevent declines in memory. As our society ages and has more and more older people, it will be important to promote their engagement in social and community life to maintain their well-being.” Additionally, Berkman’s study found that isolation can weaken immune systems and make a person more susceptible to disease.
Some assisted living facilities feel almost like college campuses – groups of friends gathered together in a common area or a library, a painting room or a café, or in an apartment for drinks and laughter – these are communities of people who want to stay engaged and social. When a person moves into assisted living, they are inserting themselves into a network of people that they can connect to. This is something that is much harder to accomplish when living independently.
Assisted living could be just what your parent or grandparent needs to thrive again – but it can be difficult to know when it’s time to make that transition or even have the conversation. If our parents are still relatively independent, but just need some extra help, they might be resistant to accepting it. We also might miss some subtle signs that it’s time to make the move.
There are some more obvious signs that independent living is no longer working. These tend to fall into a category known as ADL – or activities of daily living. If our loved ones can no longer take the stairs, have trouble transitioning in and out of bed, or need help with eating or using the restroom, assisted living or other type of long-term care facility is necessary. The same is true if they have recently suffered a bad fall or been diagnosed with a debilitating disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. There are other signs, too, though that we can look out for – red flags that might not seem as immediate but should absolutely be considered.
If our loved one is struggling with IADLs – or instrumental activities of daily living – we might also consider helping them make the transition into an assisted living home. IADLs include tasks such as cleaning, cooking, paying bills, mowing the lawn, and socializing. A home is a lot to keep up with – and as our parents age these tasks can be downright debilitating and extremely stressful to accomplish. If you notice that your parent or grandparent is struggling with these activities – or if you sense that the home is just too much to keep up with - it might be time to have the conversation. If our parent no longer has to spend time struggling to clean the house, they can focus on doing things they love – and feel more independent again.
Another sign that it’s time to make the move, is if your parent or grandparent is struggling with basic hygiene. If you notice that they are no longer taking care of themselves – whether they are not doing laundry or bathing, not brushing their hair or getting dressed – this could be a sign of something more serious, like depression. An assisted living facility can help them to feel good again. Keeping up with hygiene is essential to being in good spirits – because our parents will feel and look like themselves again.
Another sign to look out for is our parent’s pets. Are they receiving proper care? If the pets are no longer being nurtured, tended to, or fed, this is a sign that our parents are struggling and could use an extra hand. Many assisted living facilities allow pets, so this may be the best route to take if you notice an animal is being neglected. It will also be a weight off of your parent’s shoulders, while allowing them to keep their pet (which can provide an enormous comfort to them) without having to worry about tending to it.
If you notice that your parents or grandparents are struggling with any of the signs mentioned, it might be time to have the difficult conversation about making the transition. You might find that your loved one feels as ready as you do – they are getting frustrated with the difficulties of daily tasks and are looking forward to some extra help and socialization. If this is the case, that is excellent, and you should move forward with a great deal of support and encouragement – offering to do whatever you can to help with the move.
Often times, though, your loved ones might be resistant to the change – especially if they are not struggling with obvious daily tasks. They might feel that moving into assisted living is stripping them of any shred of independence they had left. It’s important to remember that moving into assisted living can actually help them to gain some independence back. According to healthcare writer Lori Johnston, “the truth is that, while moving is a big adjustment, assisted living can help extend a senior’s independence, improve their social life and provide assistance with activities of daily living.”
When we first bring up this topic with our parents, it’s important to be patient, gentle, and well informed. Make sure to express that this is not a move to take anything away from them, but rather to enrich their lives and help them thrive again. Phrasing is everything. Remember, we want our parents to feel good about this decision and not forced into it. If we use words such as “community living” instead of “assisted living” this might make a world of difference – because our parents won’t feel like they are losing something.
Don’t be afraid to ask your parents questions. Ask them what they will miss about home and see what you can do to bring that part of home to them. If they are afraid of losing a pet, remind them that there are facilities that allow pets. Let them bring their own furniture, paintings, house plants. Remind them that this does not mean they need to lose their sense of home.
Another key element of this conversation is to make sure that the decision is ultimately their own. This can be difficult – when we know our parents need help, we want to make sure they get it. Our job is to inform them of their options, including independent living, and what that might mean for their future. If they understand the pros and cons to different types of living, they can make a decision that is best to them.
If your parents are less likely to listen to a family member, have a doctor help with the conversation. Many seniors are more likely to take a medical professional seriously – and if they were on the fence, this might just be the extra push they need to make that final move. The fact is, adults value their independence – and if a doctor can convince them that their independence is actually less likely if they remain at home, that could make all the difference.
After you and your parents have discussed the move, it’s time to make the transition. There are certain things you can do to make this journey as easy and meaningful as possible – instead of heartbreaking or frustrating. The fact is, moving into an assisted living facility can be something to look forward to – not only will your parent be regaining some of their independence, but they will get to meet new people, try new things, and decorate a new place.
You can begin by taking your parent or grandparent on a tour of different facilities – so that they can choose where they will be living. Tours are great for getting your parents excited for this new life stage. They can see other seniors enjoying activities and socializing, and they can start to make plans for how they wish to decorate their new apartment. This will also help them continue to be a leader in their own life – as where they live will ultimately be up to them.
Once a facility is chosen, it’s time to start the move. Begin by creating a moving schedule. With the move-in date in mind, strategize about how long it will take you to get everything in order for the move – including packing and having time to settle in. You can also be purposeful when you choose a move-in date. Some days of the week may be less busy – and less expensive – than more popular days, like Saturdays or Sundays.
Once you have a date, it’s time to start packing. Have your loved one choose the most cherished possessions they’d like to bring along with them. Go from room to room and pick out a few precious items – being realistic about what might fit in the new space. Assisted living facilities will provide measurements and blueprints of the apartment, so you can easily plan what you need and have space for.
Once the logistics are in order, make sure to make time for an emotional transition. Be patient and kind as your loved one makes this move – it’s a lot to take in and saying goodbye to their beloved home is never easy. Allow them space to feel whatever they need to – and make sure they know you are there to support them. To show that you care, you might take the time to make a sentimental gift for them – frame a picture of the home for them to hang in their new apartment, or save a small symbol of the house – like a brick – that they can hold onto, a piece of home to keep with them forever. A simple gesture like that can help our parents to feel loved, safe, and even gain a bit of closure as they move into this next stage of life.
During the first few weeks, make sure you help them transition. Introduce them to their new neighbors, meet their caregivers, and choose some activities for them to sign up for. The best way to make this transition as easy as possible, is to get their social life going right away – that way they have something to look forward to and people they want to spend time with. The more engaged they are with their new opportunities, the happier they will feel.
Make sure that you stay close with your parents and grandparents even after those first few weeks. Keep up with visits and phone calls. Many seniors worry that they will be forgotten about when their children no longer need to care for them each day – remind them that they are loved, they are treasured, and that nothing could keep you away.
Watching your loved one age is never easy – but there are certain steps you can take to keep their lives feeling full and happy. Moving into an assisted living facility is a big one. Of course, it’s not an easy transition, but hopefully, once the move is made – you will find that your parent or grandparent is thriving once again.
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