If you’re looking at retirement residence options for your parents, you’re also probably wondering how best to bring the subject up. Perhaps your mom and dad are set in their ways, so suggesting they move into a new home might feel like a difficult step. Or maybe it just seems too soon to discuss and you’ve been putting it off.
While each family is different, with varying dynamics and cultural expectations, talking about your loved ones’ next move could be made easier by keeping these key tips in mind:
Begin talking early on
“Plant the seed early, then it’s not such a jarring surprise,” advises Deborah Braun, a West Vancouver clinical counsellor who works with young to elderly adults. Rather than waiting till health and mobility challenges set in, she says, it’s smart to start talking now about future living possibilities. For example, ask what they’d like to do when they can’t get around as well, or if one of them passes first.
Always use a soft approach
Introduce the idea when you and your parents are both relaxed, says Braun, such as after a nice walk or dinner. Be sure to ask questions from a caring perspective, and try to make your parents feel like they’ve made the decision themselves. Instead of prefacing with “If I were you, I would . . . ,” try “I’m wondering about…” or “I’m curious if . . . .” And use words like “health” and “well-being” rather than “sick” or “ill.”
“It might feel really awkward or strange at first,” notes Braun. “After all, they’ve been the wiser ones for many years, so for them to feel like we have to be taking charge for them can be a little hard.”
Do some homework
Talk with other adult children about their experiences and what helped their loved ones adjust. And visit a residence or two up front. “You’re trying to gather as much information as possible to help understand your parents’ predicament as best you can,” says Braun. Mention these relatable conversations, then segue into something like, “I drove by this retirement residence and went to take a look. I’m wondering if you’d like to take a look?”
Normalize the situation
Ask about your parents’ concerns, and then try to normalize those concerns, says Braun. “What a lot of people do is they don’t even validate that this person might have these uncomfortable feelings. They don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to get their parents all worked up, so they just ignore it, and that’s the worst thing you can do.”
Independent seniors, for example, might feel uneasy about living with others at various stages of aging. “ ‘It’s natural that you might feel uncomfortable’ is a really great way to say things,” Braun suggests. Your parents might also fear losing their identity, so reassure them that they can bring cherished personal belongings to their new home. “Tell them ‘it’s natural not to want to leave those things behind and that you can make your room your own space.’ ”
Match needs with residence services
Ask about what’s important to your parents in the years ahead, and voice your own thoughts and concerns (i.e., maybe you’re close to retiring and would like to travel, but only if your loved ones are secure). Then together look at how a retirement community might meet those needs and temper any worries.
As Vancouverite Barbara Paproski says, her parents moved into a residence last year where safety, grocery shopping, transportation and social activities were all taken care of.
“It’s safety, it’s frailty and it’s fear: ‘What if I fall, what am I going to do?’ And not being alone,” says Paproski, noting that not having to plan and prepare meals was also among her mom’s top priorities. Relocating in the same neighbourhood, or close to loved ones, can help ease the transition, she adds.
Address your own feelings
There can be grief, shame, sadness and anxiety on the part of adult children too, says Braun, adding that you might feel like you’re giving up or not able to provide proper care yourself. “Tending to your own stress and those uncomfortable emotions is very important.” Just knowing that your parents will be in a quality residence, with attentive staff overseeing their transition, she says, can help alleviate that tension.
Whichever path you and your parents take towards retirement residence living, Vancouver geriatric counsellor Peter Silin offers up this truth in his book, Nursing Homes: The Family’s Journey:
“Whatever else changes, and no matter where you or your relative go, you will always take with you the caring part of your relationship. It is the part you will always do best and the part that will matter most.”