Perhaps more than any other time of the year, the holidays are when families come together. Being with our older parents provides the best opportunity to assess their well-being. Can they still live independently? Should they move to a retirement community?
As you enjoy your time with your family, be sure to also observe their living situation and cognitive skills over the holidays.
“The holidays are about enjoying the moment,” says Jessica Martinez, LPN for Wesley Health & Home Care. “There’s no need to make family uncomfortable by focusing on a discussion about their domestic situation. However, if necessary, adult children must schedule this conversation with their parents and other family members shortly into the New Year.”
Jess has worked in health care for 20 years. She says it’s important for adult children to make a complete assessment of their elderly parents, beginning with their psychological state. Signs of loneliness, depression, or feelings of isolation are often early indicators of cognitive decline in a beloved parent. A disorganized home also indicates an adverse change in lifestyle standards.
“We may speak on the phone with our parents all the time, but seeing them in person presents a more realistic picture of how they are doing,” says Jess.
Whatever level of change you observe, Jess says open and honest conversation is critical when discussing a move to a retirement community.
“Our parents can be very defensive when confronted with moving out of their homes into a community, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” she says. “You can say ‘Hey, Mom, I’m starting to have some concerns. How can we keep you safe financially, physically, and mentally?’ This opens the conversation to change without sounding threatening.”
Jess believes consistent, open conversations will present assisted living communities not as a lifestyle threat but as an opportunity to build new relationships and experience new things. Downsizing, which often requires discarding things, including many sentimental keepsakes, also offers an opportunity to simplify and pick new furniture and appliances.
“Good transitions come from total transparency,” she says. “Successful relocations involve the elderly parents as much as possible. This way, they feel their decision is assisted by a loving hand guiding them through the process.”
Dr. Susann Verano, a geriatrician consultant, says in a recent U.S. News & World Report article that we should approach retirement community decisions and locations with the same focus we devote to selecting a college.
“We do our homework,” Varano says. “We do our due diligence. We see if our interests match what the school has to offer. Then we find out if we can get into the school. Can we afford it? What’s the cost? The location? What’s the reputation? I don’t know why we don’t do that” when it comes to retirement communities.
Jess also believes exhaustive and cooperative research is essential when discussing relocation to a retirement community.
“First of all,” she says, “remember, your parents are intelligent people who will ultimately appreciate your efforts to have these conversations about improving their daily lives and increasing their safety.
“Second,” she continues, “get as much information as possible from many locations. Put the time in to take tours and pop in for impromptu visits to see what a home or campus is like in the daytime and at night. Speak with residents and friends who may have experience with the communities. Word of mouth is huge. And yes, check out the reviews on Google and elsewhere.”
During her three years at Wesley, Jess has seen how quickly new residents make friends and engage in activities that eliminate their former feelings of isolation and loneliness.
“Removing the alone factor for new residents is huge,” she says. “Wesley residents engage so easily in conversation. They really care about their neighbors. Or in my case, members of the residential community. With this support, they feel comfortable joining clubs and outings, often trying something they have never tried before. And that feels really good.”
Wesley caregivers like Jess often see positive changes in new residents, like getting stronger with a daily exercise regimen and improved diet.
So make new memories with friends and family this holiday seasons. Also observe changes in loved ones. It will help you begin to lay the groundwork for a well-researched and respectful transition to a retirement community.