Dear Carol: My parents are in their 80s and have some health challenges. Dad can’t fix things like he did, and Mom can’t clean that well. Mostly, though, I’m afraid they’ll fall trying to do maintenance.
They’ve always been content with each other’s company, so the virus lockdown wasn’t tough on them, but now that they’ve been vaccinated, I think that it’s safe for them to move to assisted living. I’ve been badgering them for years, telling them how great a particular assisted living facility is and how much safer they’d be living there. They have a friend who loves the facility, but whenever I mention that, my parents get mad. They don’t have dementia, but they're acting like toddlers over this! How do I get them to move into a safer place? — LS.
Dear LS: Forgive me for repeating myself, but considering my mail, it’s obvious that your situation is a common one.
First, not keeping a house up as well as when people are young isn’t reason enough to move to a care home unless that’s the elder couple's choice. There are services that can help. Falls, though, can be an issue for older adults, so that’s a valid point.
I hate to sound like I'm scolding you because I know you mean well, but your approach to this is backfiring. In your own words, you’ve been “badgering them” to move into what you see as a safer environment, and your brain is classifying them with toddlers. Neither is productive. Take a moment to ask yourself how you’d respond if someone, particularly someone with less life experience than you, "badgered" you to make a huge life change. You’d resent it, right?
Try to step back a bit. Tell your parents that you understand that they love their home, their privacy and their independence. Let them know that you love them and worry about them, and want to keep them safe, but you recognize that you have been overly zealous in trying to get your point across. Then give them some space.
Additionally, understand that being “safe” is not always a priority for older adults. Many prefer independence to absolute safety (if absolute safety even exists). The benefits and trade-offs of each available choice must be thought through — and that means considering your parents' mental and emotional health, not just physical safety.
Again, I recognize your worry because I know it well. I want to help you help your parents, which is why I’m suggesting a more patient and respectful approach.
Patience can be hard, I know, but it's often rewarding. If we can put ourselves in the other person’s place, we may find them far more cooperative or at least more willing to consider our view.
With less pressure and a little time, your parents might even surprise you, perhaps by agreeing to make safety improvements in their home for now and allowing for the option of in-home care or even assisted living as things change.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.