Long-time readers of this newsletter know that Alyson and I have worked hard these past several years to find the best care and living situation for our dad who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s more than 15 years ago.
There is a lot to figure out! Options and decisions touch on so many interconnected areas — geographic, financial, medical, personal preferences, and more.
We know that our clients struggle with this too; we hear it nearly every day in our consultation sessions with them. With so many options, trade-offs, and things to consider, it’s no wonder this topic causes a lot of stress.
But as complicated as it can be to identify the best option(s), the truth is, the one hurdle that many people find most difficult to get over is getting their loved one to buy into (or at least not oppose) whatever choices seem best.
Change is Hard
It can be a big ask to confront an older adult with the news that, “It’s time for you to move,” or, “We want somebody to come in and support you at home.”
It may be the “right” decision in terms of their care and safety. It may even be a decision they might very much prefer if they only knew how much they would enjoy living within a well-maintained community where they are supported, their responsibilities are reduced, and their wants are catered to.
But from their perspective, that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Most fear a loss of autonomy and independence, and a shift away from whatever routine they have at home: “Their comfort zone”
Fortunately, there are approaches we have seen that greatly increase the likelihood an older loved one will get on board.
Here are four suggestions…
#1. Watch your language.
How you talk about the options is just as important as what those options are.
For example, your mom may say, “I never want to live in a facility of any kind. It isn’t home.” Rather than simply touting its benefits in the hope of changing her mind, stop calling it a facility. An assisted living is not a medical building! Call it a residence instead. A community. An apartment where care and support is right there IF she ever needs it.
Another example. Rather than confronting dad with the reality that you observe: “You need help, you’re not making your meals right, this place is filthy,” rephrase that same situation in a positive way: “Wouldn’t it be so nice to have a helper come in once or twice a week? They can take care of some of this, so you don’t have as much stress.”
Overall, think about how you can get your message across without highlighting the older adult’s diminishing capabilities.
#2. Get your facts together first.
Many times, when people hire us, it starts with a Virtual Care Consultation. It’s a coaching call where we do a crash course in “Senior Living 101.” We encourage clients not to have their parent or loved one on that first call.
It’s not that we are trying to plan around them. It’s just much better for the adult children to be able to speak frankly and directly so they can walk away with a good sense of what is possible and probable — before bringing all of this to mom or dad.
Do a bit of research first. When the conversations with your older loved one do begin, they will involve tangible options delivered with a more confident and supportive energy.
#3. Present options early.
As our dad’s Parkinson’s progressed, we could see that if something were to happen to our mom, his living situation (at the time, in a condo) would immediately become impossible. So we knew we had to begin talking about what would be next, “just in case.”
These types of “What if?” conversations are helpful in two ways. First, since they happen before a need is there, they remove the pressure of having to make important decisions in the midst of a crisis. Second, because at that point the options are still hypothetical, they feel less threatening.
In our dad’s case, even though he wanted nothing to do with making a move, he was open to this discussion: “Dad, will you participate in helping us figure out what you would want if you were not able to stay at home alone anymore?”
Often, the backup plan becomes the plan. But if you jump right to, “You should start looking now,” you are likely to meet with a great deal of resistance. (You should not “should” on older people.)
#4. Consider your expectations.
The chances are very high that there will not be a resolution after the first, second, or even third conversation. It’s not that older people can no longer process information, but they do process more slowly.
These are big changes — give your loved one the chance to absorb what you are requesting of them.
Maybe the objective of the first conversation is simply to bring up the topic in a way that does not trigger dad’s anger. A second objective may be to talk about options that he might really like. A third objective could be to get him to agree to a visit to put a backup plan in place.
This is one more reason to start the discussion sooner rather than later, allowing plenty of time for things to sink in.
Buy-In Is a Process
It’s unrealistic to expect older people to be open-minded the first time they are met with the suggestion that they should accept care or move to an unfamiliar place — regardless of how necessary and beneficial a move may be.
Under the best of circumstances, a smooth transition requires time, patience, active listening, and a well-thought-out approach. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can help guide you through it.