Health complications arise as a natural consequence of aging, yet many seniors fight hard to stay in their homes as long as possible. Studies do show that aging in place is best in the majority of cases; it can stave off depression and anxiety, and thus promote better healing and emotional health. Familiar environments help seniors to be social and take an active role in their lives, both of which are ways to stay mentally and physically sharp.
All of this does not mean that moving a senior away from a current home into one that better suits evolving healthcare needs is a bad move. Seniors need to relocate at times for a variety of reasons, and these shifts are as complicated, if not more so, as any move.
“My friend Sally’s mother moved into this senior care facility a few miles south of town, and she absolutely loves it.”
If a beloved elderly one needs to move but is finding it difficult to see the necessity of it, family members and/or caregivers would do well to review the following common reasons and persuasions for an older person to move.
Desirability of Relocation to Relatives’ Communities
Many people grow up and move away from home—sometimes far away from home. This may mean that adult children live hundreds (or thousands) of miles away from a senior who now needs more care than a visiting nurse and a few phone calls a week can cover. The senior’s needs have changed for some reason; perhaps the person is progressing in Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and now needs supervision to prevent wandering, or it may be as simple as the person having trouble keeping the house uncluttered enough to prevent falls and injury. Regardless of why, relocating a senior across long distances can be a stressful experience for everyone involved.
It helps to emphasize the positives. Family members may discuss activities or places to visit in the new locale, or describe nice residences in the area. If the senior is moving in with an adult child, it is important to reassure him or her how nice the room will be and how much privacy as well as family and social time will be available. Emphasizing new opportunities to get involved with any other adult children and/or grandchildren, to attend graduations and birthday parties more frequently, and to participate in other family activities may help. Moving may be presented as a light at the end of the tunnel of isolation and stress. Of course, it should be noted that safety is of paramount importance. Focusing on safety issues and the need for sufficient care to maintain a good quality of life may convince a senior that family members and their communities are great resources to tap for continuing good health and well being.
Relocation for Safety
Most seniors have spent their lives being unafraid of tripping over small objects, or unconcerned with how to navigate a wheelchair around a home. Most people do not foresee developing dementia or losing a foot to diabetes or even having mobility compromised by failing vision or arthritis. As times goes by, a host of other health concerns may make living alone more dangerous. Falls especially are a huge concern as mobility becomes limited with age. A home that has steep staircases, or is small and crowded, or is not accessible by wheelchair or walker is a home that could cause a senior to fall and break bones. Without others nearby to help a fallen senior up and get him or her to the hospital promptly, the person is at risk for complications from an injury and even death.
This can be testy to discuss, as the question of pride and caring for oneself always lingers in the minds of many seniors. Honoring that feeling and understanding it can make such discussions easier. It is devastating to hear that others believe one is no longer able to keep oneself safe in a familiar home. Acknowledging that feeling and then explaining the risks of staying at home, and the benefits of adjusting living space to something more compatible with current needs can be beneficial. If the senior is persuaded, he or she will still feel able to self-advocate and make empowered decisions. Ultimately, of course, it is up to the senior to make the choice to live in a safer situation.
Relocation to a Long-Term Facility
The stereotype of residences for seniors is that they are not particularly fun places to be. Some of this is media portrayal, some of it is lived experience, some of it is the horror of news stories that sensationalize abuse or neglect in these homes. Yet the actual experience for many seniors in a long-term care facility is not full of sadness and horror; if properly vetted, long-term care facilities can be the best way to make the lives of seniors full and happy after some time of sickness and challenges.
The best way to convince a senior to move into a long-term care facility is to involve physicians in the discussion. It is hard to argue with hard facts delivered by a health care expert. Family members may want to give examples of nearby facilities that offer great care. Following that up with any personal anecdotes may also be persuasive. For example: “My friend Sally’s mother moved into this senior care facility a few miles south of town, and she absolutely loves it. She says the food is great and the people there are wonderful, and when she had that horrible fall, they found her immediately. She got rehab there and was walking again in no time!” A senior may be willing to make a visit to such a facility just to check it out, with no strings attached or commitment needed. Planning ahead means family members and their elderly loved ones can take the time to shop around and prioritize their needs. If an elderly loved one values independence, there are places with levels of treatment designed for residents to keep their privacy and freedom for as long as possible. If the person is experiencing dementia and needs loving care for memory loss, there are places that are dementia-friendly, with staffs that do not make patients feel judged or frustrated.
Such discussions usually evolve over time, and it may take some weeks, months, or years to convince a senior to move to a better location for changing health care needs. Famly members should not give up or become angry when it becomes especially difficult. Seniors are often just as scared, stressed, and confused as their caregivers about the next, best move to make, and understanding that and being able to reach out in empathy may make all the difference.
Brotman, Barbara. (April 6, 2015). Moving an elderly parent to live nearby—common and complicated. Chicago Tribune. Available at http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/columnists/ct-talk-moving-parents-brotman-0406-20150403-column.html. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
Goyer, Amy. (September 8, 2009). Helping Aging Parents Move. AARP.com. Available at http://www.aarp.org/relationships/family/info-09-2009/goyer_the_big_move.html. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
Lassin, Arlene Nisson. (March 21, 2014). Moving My Kicking-And-Screaming Elderly Parents 1,600 Miles To Be With Me. The Huffington Post. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arlene-lassin/caring-for-elderly-parents_b_4955589.html. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
Rosenblatt, Carolyn L. (September 15, 2010). Helping Aging Parents Who Don’t Want Help. Forbes. Available at http://www.forbes.com/2010/09/15/helping-elderly-homecare-assisted-living-personal-finance-helping-aging-parents.html. Retrieved July 4, 2016.