Various reasons present themselves for encouraging a parent to make a move out of their home. Safety concerns probably rank highest, as well as the development of early memory loss. Elders living alone can often experience isolation and making a move to where there are other people their own age to relate to can have positive benefits. Loneliness can have strong adverse effects on health and precipitate depression in some older adults.
Here are some tips for starting the conversation with someone who does not have significant cognitive decline:
1. Before having the conversation, think about all of the reasons they may not want to move. Consider some solutions to these concerns. For example, if they attend a church close by and worry about not being able to attend, look into whether a ride can be arranged with a church volunteer. Anticipating their concerns ahead of time may help you be more relaxed during the conversation and able to actively listen to their concerns.
2. Start the meeting by acknowledging how difficult the conversation is for both of you. Acknowledge their concerns about moving right at the start. Express the fears you have had in the past around change and ask your parent what might make him/her anxious about moving to a retirement community.
3. Explain why you think this is an important conversation to have. You might say something like, “even though it is hard to talk about the possibility of moving, I really think it is important we do it now because I am starting to worry about your safety in this house, given your recent falls” (difficulty making meals, too much time alone, etc)
4. Give plenty of reassurance that your number goal is their happiness and their safety; you are not trying to take over their lives. Accentuate the values of more freedom and choice to use their energy for making new friends and enjoying new activities, rather than cooking, cleaning or worrying about yardwork. If you have examples of people you know who have made a move and are now settled nicely, recount them. You may even be able to utilize that person to talk to your parent themselves or host them at a complimentary lunch at their residence.
5. Remember to be gentle, to frame the situation from their perspective, and to avoid trying to prove them wrong or prove why they “have to” move. Think about how you feel if someone tries to tell you what you should do. No matter what their age, youthfulness stays in their hearts and they want to be treated with respect and validation, honoring their ability to maintain control over their lives. Even if you say all of the right words but your tone conveys that you are trying to push them into a decision, they will respond to your tone rather than your words. Breath and let go as the conversation unfolds. Try not to be overly attached.
Thinking ahead and being proactive about the possible future transitions that aging may bring is not unlike planning that has occurred at other stages of life. Planning the wedding, planning to have a family, planning for retirement. Remind your parent how well they prepared for these transitions in their lives and that this is much the same. Approaching it in this manner allows them to express their thoughts out loud and to then be able to ponder what they have said when they are alone. Remember, everything happens step by step. Be patient.