By Judy Meleliat, President of Aegis Living, a company with 30 assisted living and memory care communities across the west coast.
As my mom blew out the candles on her 90th birthday cake at Aegis Living, she looked up at me and smiled. It was the moment where I finally let my breath out too. We had made it. We had weathered the storm of doubt, guilt, and denial. She was safe in her new assisted living community and I was at peace with our decision.
Ten years ago, my mom was living in Chicago and I was 2,000 miles away in Seattle. I distinctly remember one visit to her home when it hit me that she had significantly aged since the last time I had seen her. She had more physical limitations. She looked frail. After that visit, I began to listen to our phone conversations closely for clues about her health. I asked her more questions and checked with my extended family living in Chicago. I became more aware. It was at this point that I started a discussion that took nine years. And it wasn’t always easy.
Many people ask me for advice on how to have “the talk” with your aging parent when they can no longer live on their own. I strongly suggest starting this discussion much earlier than you may think. It can’t be a single talk. It will take time and lots of loving patience. Preparation and research will be the key to a smooth transition. It is a difficult conversation, but an important one to honor your parent.
The first step is to collect information. Does your parent have a will? Who have they designated as their power of attorney? How are their finances? Do they have long-term health insurance? These are the facts and the paperwork that you want to have in order, before there is a crisis. Asking about these issues can also open the door for a more intimate discussion about their future health and possible care needs. If you couldn’t live on your own, where would you want to live? How do you feel about in-home care? This information can give you a baseline understanding of how your parent feels about their independence.
As a Holocaust survivor, my mom was fiercely protective of her independence, which had once been stolen from her as a child. This was in the back of my mind during every conversation that we had about her moving into an assisted living community. It was something unique to our relationship that needed to be handled with sensitivity. I always wanted her to feel part of the decision-making process. And I knew that I had to help her maintain her sense of independence, so long as it was safe for her.
Take the time to research care options. Get recommendations from family members and friends. If you can, visit communities and meet with administrators and caregivers. See firsthand how the residents appear. Are they engaged in activities? Are they happy? Are they dressed and groomed? Understand the different options for care and the limitations that each location provides. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be in this important decision of who will care for your aging parent.
While my mother lived in Chicago, we had in-home healthcare aides that assisted with her daily needs. I had researched and visited many assisted living communities with her during my visits, including several where her friends lived. She was not ready to move at that time, but I had a short list of facilities that I knew could meet her needs. There was comfort in this knowledge.
A Unified Family.
It is extremely important for siblings and families to come together and share in the process of relocating a parent to meet their care needs. Families should visit assisted living communities separately on different days and at different times to see a variety of activities. Be prepared that the decision to move your parent to an assisted living community can be charged with feelings of guilt and denial, making the process even harder. If your parent has a living spouse, the decision can be particularly sensitive and more complicated. Families who are not united about their decisions will cause much more anxiety for themselves and their parent. Be gentle with each other. Focus on what is the best for your loved one.
As an only child, I was fortunate to have a strong network of extended family to support us as I planned to move my mother near my home in Seattle. I also had the unique situation of working in the assisted living industry and could move her into one of our communities. Despite all of this support, she still was hesitant to move. Change is hard and you must be patient.
Many families don’t prepare or have the discussion with their aging parent until there is a crisis. At this point, you are forced to make a decision under great stress. If this is the case, I strongly suggest that you move your parent to an assisted living community for a short-term stay (also called respite). This is a great place for a parent to heal after a hospital stay. Often times, when a loved one tries out a community they are more willing to stay on a permanent basis.
My mother had a series of hospital stays for chronic UTI’s and pneumonia. Both are conditions common in the elderly that can be treated with better oversight – avoiding dehydration, better hygiene, monitoring nutrition, and physical activity. The last hospital stay forced the issue that my mom needed more care than an in-home healthcare aide could provide. Together, we made the decision that living closer to me at Aegis Living was in her best interest.
This coming Mother’s Day, I plan to have brunch with my mom. We will celebrate that day in the comfort of her new home among her new friends and those who care for her as much as I do.