Helping Your Parents Keep Their Independence

It can be one of the most challenging phases of the parent/child relationship, and we aren’t talking about the teenage years.  As parents age and adult children are faced with the prospect of having “the talk” about moving to an assisted living facility, it is quite possibly the most stressful time in the parent/child relationship. Neither party is happy and both are feeling a great deal of anxiety.

According to 2008 federal data, approximately 70% of adults over the age of 65 are expected to need some type of long-term care services during their lifetime. That leaves very few of us exempt from having to have “the talk”.  Additionally, 42% of adults between the ages of 45 and 65 feel that discussing if elderly parents are no longer able to live on their own is the most difficult topic they face*.

With so many of us facing this difficult issue, and with so few of us really having a handle on how to address it, how can parents and adult children minimize the stress?

First, we recommend starting the discussion early. Don’t wait until there is a crisis on hand or your parent’s health has begun to deteriorate. If you are active in your parent’s estate planning, now is a good time to begin the process. Discuss with them what their long term care goals are. Get them down on paper, begin researching and visiting facilities, and have a plan in place that you can put into action when the time comes.

As your parents age, consider taking steps that can help them to stay in their homes longer.  The longer your parents can maintain their independence, the easier the transition is likely to be. For example, consider hiring a cleaning service to help with heavy-duty cleaning tasks, hire a hospice service to ensure that medications are taken on schedule, install safety devices in the home including chairlifts and shower bars to minimize falls. All of these items help to maintain parent’s independence while giving adult children peace of mind.

When it comes time to make the move to an assisted living facility, take the time to have a heart to heart discussion. This means turning off the cell phone and disengaging from other distractions so you can focus on your parents and really hear what they are saying. Speak clearly about what you are feeling without making your parents feel like they are being attacked.  Offer options to your parents instead of telling them what they are going to do. Ask for their ideas and input. They have many years of experience and valuable opinions.

Finally, imagine how all this feels from their perspective. It can be hard to leave their home, routine, all their memories and face the prospect of starting over.  Be gentle, kind, and respectful.  Give them the time to grieve and transition as they need to.  Don’t push too hard.  Remember someday you might be having this same discussion with your own children; think about how you would want to be treated by them.

In the end, the most important thing is to maintain the health and safety of your parents. Make the decisions that will ensure that you are all together for as long as possible.

* According to a 2006 study from Home Instead Inc.