I received a call today from an adult daughter who lives across country and is trying to convince her mother of why a move into a senior community is the right decision. Her mother lives in a two story home with stairs that meet a marble floor. The home, as is often the case, has fallen into disrepair because it becomes too difficult to maintain.
Parents, who might be embarrassed, proud and not wanting to cause worry, don’t let family know what’s happening. It’s often a visit around the holidays that illuminates the situation.
There’s a great book called “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” written by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s a book I read when I began my career in senior move management. Roz describes and illustrates her personal journey with her aging parents in a very real way. The gist of the book is that she wasn't prepared for her parent's aging and inevitable death. You believe they will live independently, get sick, go to the hospital and that will be it. The story for most is very different.
Aging in our culture is “the elephant in the room”. Our society is one to largely cast aside seniors where other cultures give them a place of honor, compounding the issue.
In American society, it seems it’s not okay to not be okay. The reality is, if we live long enough, we are going to face physical limitations. (At the very least.) While I’ve had 20/20 vision my entire life, at 48 I can barely read pill bottles with reading glasses and have to keep a magnifier in my kitchen.
So how do we bring up a subject that everyone seems to want to bury their heads in the sand about?
First of all, you have to let go of the guilt. Most of us are barely holding it together ourselves.
The way we talk to ourselves and the opinions we've formed about senior living have to be the first thing to change. Seeing all the benefits of senior living will help reframe your own perception, alleviate much of your guilt and make it easier to discuss senior living with your family. (A benefit of working with seniors and being in and out of senior communities is that I get to see communities I'd move into tomorrow if it were an option (and I didn't have three kids at home).)
If you haven’t visited a community, do. Communities are no longer our great grandparents’ convalescent homes. The food is amazing and the social calendar would wear me out.
Also, there have been many studies done on the benefits of socialization. Socialization reduces depression and anxiety and contributes to the overall lifespan.
Once you are clear about the benefits of senior living, focus on the "silver lining" when discussing it with your loved ones. For example, most communities offer most, if not all, meals. “Mom, you aren’t going to HAVE to cook.”
It's also important to be aware of your language. Would YOU rather live in a "facility" or a "community"?
In Florida, they've just opened a Jimmy Buffet inspired community "Latitude Margaritaville". There are professionals called Placement Agents who guide clients on the best places for a person's interests and budget. In most cases, these services are FREE because they are compensated by the community from the first month's rent.
After letting go of the guilt and reframing perception, we have to get to a place where we can talk about the inevitable. Acknowledge your own feelings as well as your parents feelings around what the move represents. Often times, adult children are facing their own fear and sadness around the loss of their parents, their childhood home and the shifting roles we take on as we become the next generation. Once you acknowledge these feelings, you open the door to authentic and vulnerable conversation
Lastly, sharing your personal concern for your parents makes a big difference. It is not easy to juggle your own responsibilities with the worry about your parents falling or being injured. Make sure you honor your parents. Let them know they have a say and don’t make the mistake of trying to “control” them. One of the hardest things about aging is the loss of independence. Help your parents be YOUR parent by explaining how their health and safety affects YOUR health and well being. (After all, we are conditioned to care for the health and safety of our children.)
A great way to introduce the concept of senior living is sharing the Senior Savers show. It was inspired by our experience seeing the difference between seniors who made a proactive move into senior living versus those who waited too long to reap the benefits. The show demonstrates how easy the actual move can be. Moves are always hard, even under the best of circumstances. Making the move on your own terms makes it easier.
Jami Shapiro is President of Silver Linings Transitions. As a cancer survivor, she embraces aging and the challenges it presents.