My first job after graduate school was in an assisted living community — Sunrise of Boulder in Colorado. It was 2003 and I was hired as the Activity and Volunteer Coordinator. My sister and business partner, Alyson, was a Care Manager in that same community.
Throughout our careers since then, Alyson and I have helped literally thousands of older adults make the transition from living at home to living in a supportive community setting.
In nearly every case — when the boxes were unpacked, the change of address forms were mailed, and the dust had settled — our clients told us the same thing: “I wish I had done this sooner.”
As one daughter wrote to me shortly after her mom moved into Sunrise: “I can’t believe what a wonderful change I have seen in my mom. You helped open a new chapter for my mother in a book that I thought was coming to a close.”
Even so, for most people, leaving a home you love is difficult.
Three Primary Reasons
When it comes to moving, here are three hurdles we come across most often:
#1. People don’t want to admit that they can’t take care of themselves: “I’m just fine.”
For most older adults, it becomes more and more difficult to manage the daily demands of cooking, cleaning, home maintenance and, in many cases, navigating the stairs. Unfortunately, many people in this situation are in denial about how well they can function.
Whether it’s an unwillingness to acknowledge our own mortality, or simply a case of pride, leaving one’s home and moving to a community where everything is taken care of can be a hard sell.
#2. People are very attached to their homes: “We love our house.”
In New England in particular, there are many people who have lived in the same house for decades. They’ve raised their children there, they’ve lived through home renovations, and they’ve celebrated countless holidays and family milestones. The house itself is precious; it’s much more than just a place to live.
One of our clients, for example, a woman named Rose, was most concerned about leaving behind the beautifully crafted front door that her husband had built forty-five years ago when they first bought the house. It may sound trivial, but to Rose, that door represented the home she and her late husband had created.
#3. People misinterpret the finances: “I can’t afford to move.”
Many people simply compare their monthly income (social security, pension, etc.) to the monthly cost of assisted living. Often, that leads them to conclude that a move is too expensive.
But that’s only part of the calculation. Many people, for example, may be eligible for Veteran’s benefits which pay towards the cost of assisted living. Plus, by selling the home, many expenses are eliminated, such as property tax, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, maintenance and food. Plus, the additional costs of hiring private home care can be greatly reduced and, in most cases, eliminated in assisted living.
In nearly all cases, there are financial options beyond the obvious; assisted living may be the most affordable choice. Staying at home with home care may work well for those with financial resources and a support system, but home care does require planning and oversight. Consider speaking to a professional financial advisor and an elder law attorney to help you uncover the various options specific to your circumstances.
Having the Conversation
In his insightful book, How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders, David Solie explains that every life developmental stage has a purpose. For older adults, it’s legacy: What am I leaving behind? What impact have I had?
For those at the threshold of this next phase, it’s important to let them speak and to listen without judgment. When I asked Rose to talk about her front door’s significance, I began to understand why leaving it behind was so difficult. It wasn’t until one of her sons suggested that he could use it as the front door of his house that she could be comfortable walking away.
It’s also helpful to paint a picture of the opportunity. For many seniors, the idea of a supportive living community conjures up thoughts of being “put in a home.”
That’s why we emphasize the importance of touring potential assisted living communities, so that seniors can see what these really are: a hybrid between a care facility and a nice hotel, where quality meals are prepared, trips and activities are planned, residents are catered to, and somebody else takes care of changing the light bulbs!
Push Less, Listen More
Even under the best of circumstances, leaving a cherished home behind is stressful.
You’ll have the most success in easing your loved ones through this transition by empathizing with their concerns and helping them see the opportunities that await in this next life chapter.