Home for the Holidays: How to talk to your aging loved ones about their future
With the Holiday Season in full swing, many families are coming together to celebrate. Often times, the destination is the adult children’s long-time family home to visit their elderly parents. Some families are fortunate enough to live close together and are able to check in regularly. But for others, the holidays might be the only time of year that they are able to visit home. That is why it is so important to learn how to talk to your aging loved ones about the future!
For those families, it becomes critically important for guests to arrive with an open mind so that you know your aging loved ones are living safely, financially comfortable, and in a place that is not burdening them with unnecessary tasks.
Take special notice of things such as:
The condition of your loved one’s home can tell you a lot about the way that they are living when you aren’t around. For instance, if your mother’s normally spotless home has been collecting dust, you might consider paying closer attention. It is possible that something has changed with your mother’s abilities, demeanor, or attitude towards her home.
Also ask yourself if the home is safe for your loved one in their current physical state.
- Are there carpets that could be tripped over?
- Is Clutter blocking off rooms?
- Are there rails installed or are they necessary?
- Has the exterior of the house been kept up with?
- Are heavy items (large pots and kitchen appliances) in low, easy to reach places?
- What is the layout of the bathroom and is it still safe?
New Physical Limitations
If you haven’t seen your loved ones for a few months, you might find yourself surprised that they have more physical limitations than they did the last time you saw them. This alone, of course, does not mean that an assisted living facility should be your first consideration. However, you should make these observations now. Having a realistic expectation of physical ability will help you determine if the home is both safe and manageable.
- Is your loved one still comfortable using stairs?
- Are they still picking up their feet when they walk (in case of carpeting and fall risks)?
- Can they still do regular tasks with ease (like cleaning, cooking, getting dressed)?
How Burdened do they feel?
The answer to this question could be the key to understanding what really needs to happen moving forward.
Not all seniors are downsizing their homes because they HAVE to. In fact, many seniors are de-cluttering and downsizing now because they are not interested in the upkeep of their large family home. In this case, it is important to be understanding of their wishes.
For those who ARE experiencing the burden of the household due to physical impairments, having them highlight their struggle might help this important conversation along for two reasons.
- They use their own words to express the burdens they face every day in their home and begin to see them as problems with
- This will give you a clear idea of the type of home that would better suit your loved one moving forward. Listen carefully so that you can highlight the positives of alternative living arrangements in the future. For example, “This house is a one level, so you won’t have to worry about stairs.” Or “This community takes care of all the yard work and treating the ground in the winter so you won’t have to worry about paying someone!”
Starting an open dialogue
The talk that you have with your loved ones about their aging and end of life plan can be difficult. However, it is incredibly important to start an open dialogue on the subject and create a plan for moving forward.
This subject often inspires concern from seniors as they fear that they are losing their independence. You can gently remind them that you just want to be sure that they are able to liveout the rest of their life according to their wishes. And just as we plan for any other phase of life, we must also plan for this.
If you have no immediate concerns for your loved one, it is not unreasonable to avoid jumping into this conversation with both feet. Asking simple questions about your aging loved one’s plans for the future without judgment can be a great place to start!
- “Have you thought at all about whether you’d like to keep this house long-term (Age in Place)? Or were you thinking of downsizing in the future?”
- “It worries me being so far away from you in case of an accident. Do you have your advance directive updated so that I know you’re getting the care you want, even if I’m not immediately available?”
- “How are things around the house? Are you getting enough help?”
- “Would you like some help de-cluttering your home?
These questions help you test the waters to see how willing or open to a serious conversation that your loved one might be. Additionally, they are direct questions. Therefore, a yes or no answer will do!
Preparing for “The Talk”
You should plan on revisiting this topic again after you’ve had time to digest what you observed, listen to what your loved one had to say, and do your own research. Things that you will want to prepare for this conversation include:
- Options– It is important that you are prepared with multiple options so that your loved one knows that there is a choice to be made and that they do have some control. You can do your research on assisted living facilities, nursing homes, retirement communities, combining households with you or a family member, or get estimates on repairs and upgrades to make their home safer.
- Outline a financial plan– This might be difficult to do. Your loved one may not be very willing to share their financial information or situation. But it IS an important factor consider. You could make a card for each option that you think is suitable and highlight the cost or additional costs to consider and leave them blank to fill in together. Seeing a side by side comparison might make the decision easier to make.
- Research the progression of Illness– If your loved one has been diagnosed with a progressive illness, it is possible that you will have to keep both hands on the wheel through the decision making process. By researching the progression and speaking with their doctor you will have a better idea of the type of housing and services that will be most effective.
- Address your own feelings- Before going on this emotional rollercoaster with your loved one, make sure you check in with yourself first. It can be difficult to accept that your loved one is no longer as young and independent as they once were. It can also be difficult to encourage your loved one to sell your childhood home. Having a positive attitude can make all the difference! Therefore, it is critical that you sort out your own emotions first.
During the talk
Now that you know what to say, it’s all about how you say it! Giving this discussion the weight of a deeply serious conversation can be a drain on everyone involved. While it is a serious matter, we suggest trying to keep the conversation light and positive.
Use a positive tone while presenting housing options
You can start your sentences saying things like “Remember when you said you had issues with the stairs? Well this is on one level!” This immediately lets them know that you are taking their thoughts and concerns into account. Also make sure to highlight social activities that might interest them. These include art classes, clubs, fitness classes, and more!
Using wording that highlights the new location as a much deserved retirement as opposed to a medical trip. For instance, you can say “Condo” instead of rooms. Or “community” rather than facility.
Promise to keep them involved in decision making
You don’t want to take away your loved one’s dignity. For this reason, it is important that you include them in as much of the process as possible. This includes touring communities, allowing them to ask questions, and share concerns. Remember to exercise patience.
Ask them to live out different aging scenarios
You will challenge your loved one to consider worst case scenarios. Ask them how they would like for things to be handled in those instances. While it is a difficult conversation to have, planning for these possibilities can make things much easier on the family in the future.
- “What if one of you passes away? How can make sure you are taken care of and financially comfortable?”
- “What if one day this house it too much for you to take care of on your own? Would we hire outside services or would you consider moving into one of these communities?”
- “What if something falls through with finances? Would you consider living with me or another family member?”
Though your loved one may resist at first, you can remind them that you are only discussing this with them as a precaution. Having these conversations while the family is grieving and stressed is much less productive than having them now.
If you are having this conversation with an aging couple, it could be very helpful for them to know what their spouse’s wishes for each other are. After all, they may not be having that conversation amongst themselves. This is particularly true when a spouse gives their blessing on selling the family home they shared together.
Moving forward is a positive thing!
Many times senior citizens resist moving into a retirement community or assisted living facility as they will often times see it as the “beginning of the end”. But with proper planning and motivation, this could not be further from the truth. If you believe that this is the best option for your loved one, highlight these positives!
- A fresh start- Whether the move was a result of losing a spouse, an overwhelming house, or just to change things up- moving into a community setting offers a fresh start for aging seniors.
- Less stuff = Less cleaning- In a smaller home, they will have less items cluttering up their living space and therefore less to clean and take care of!
- It can save you money- When you consider the cost of unexpected repairs, regular maintenance on a large home and yard, utilities, and other services- you may actually be saving money by moving to a facility where all of these things are included!
- More Time- With less work to do in your home, you can enjoy life more! If you are in a community that offers activities, you might be able to practice existing hobbies or pick up new ones. Whether it is reading, painting, or taking a dance class- you now have the time to let your talents flourish.
Our seniors have earned this time to enjoy life and be taken care of, just as they cared for us. With compassion, research, and patience we can all ensure that our aging loved one’s golden years are exactly that- golden!