“I Can’t Wait for Assisted Living!”
Said No One’s Parents. Ever.
Older adults want to live at home as independently as possible for as long as possible. That’s what AARP’s research says — and chances are your folks agree.
But a report from the National Poll on Healthy Aging finds that many older adults haven’t done any planning to make their homes “age in place” ready.
Denial Is Dangerous
That’s a problem. The longer your parents procrastinate, the harder it’s going to be when a health crisis or condition pits them — and your — in a pressure cooker. And that timer is running, says retired geriatric social worker Beth Spencer, MSW:
“Like it or not, most of us will have some disability at some point… Most of us now are living into our 80s, many into their 90s, some into their hundreds, and we will develop chronic illnesses or acute illnesses along the way which are going to require some kind of adaptation in lifestyle.”
Denial is dangerous, says Spencer, who spent nearly 50 years working with older clients and their families. “Over the years I’ve worked with so many people who did not want to think about aging and refused to think about it or plan for it… while things started to collapse around them.”
“…it’s often hard for older people to accept that it’s time to seek help with tasks they’ve done for themselves for decades, or to spend money on a contractor to do aging-in-place projects,” she says.
So how do you move forward? One option is to wait for a crisis to focus everyone’s attention. That’s a well-worn path to action — through a sh#t storm of stress. But it’s an option.
Here’s a Better Strategy:
1. Talk with your parents. What are their plans? Where do they see themselves? Your goal is to understand what they want, what matters most. This isn’t an interrogation. You’re planting seeds for an ongoing conversation. But this is a touchy subject. Resistance is likely. Be respectful, patient, & persistent.
Tip: Make the topic less threatening by talking about someone else: is one of your mom’s friends moving because of health reasons? Is one of your friends helping her father after a fall? Or talk about an aging-at-home article that made you think about your own plans.
2. Start Small. Focus on reducing your parent’s fall risk — the leading cause of serious and fatal injuries for older adults — and a key reason people are no longer able to stay at home. A simple home assessment checklist is an easy way to start. Some do-it-yourself fixes, such as motion-detecting night lights, are no-brainers. Others, like grab bars require skill to install properly. (Using double-sided sticky tape is not a skill!)
3. Make changes gradually. The sooner your parents start planning, the more time they’ll have to make thoughtful changes based on a thoughtful strategy. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Your parents’ needs are likely to change over time, and bigger projects, such as walk-in showers and stair lifts, may require financial planning.
Will your parents push back? Probably. When they do, step back, but don’t give up. Making changes to age safely at home isn’t a concession. It’s an investment in your parent’s independence — and your peace of mind.
When to Get Help
Home safety is more urgent if you think a parent is having memory or mobility problems. Start with a medical assessment from your parent’s primary care doc. As part of a comprehensive fall risk evaluation, they can prescribe a functional home safety assessment by an occupational or physical therapist, which should be covered by Medicare.
Thanks for caring,
Dollars and Sense
Has your mom started to bounce checks? Is this the same woman who balanced her checkbook to the penny?
Don’t write it off as a harmless oversight. Problems with managing money and financial decision-making can add up — and only cost more the longer they go unnoticed.
Worse: Research shows that financial decline can be an early warning sign of cognitive impairment and dementia, a condition which makes your parent even more vulnerable to financial risks, including scammers. Look for these red flags: Five Early Warning Signs of Financial Decline. (PDF)
Unlock the Value of VA Benefits
Is your mom or dad a veteran? Their VA benefits may help pay for some or a substantial amount of their healthcare or long-term care costs. How much depends on a variety of factors. But for many families, VA benefits are a surprising gamechanger.
Here’s the catch: Applying for VA benefits takes an incredible amount of documentation and time. (We’re talking months.) So don’t wait until there’s an urgent need.
Your best bet: Start by finding an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representative to help you navigate the maze of requirements and paperwork.
- Get Help From an Accredited Representative (VA)
- VA Benefits for Older Veterans (VA)
- Assisted Living for Veterans Guide (A Place for Mom)
Are You Past Your Tipping Point?
Caregiver burnout is dangerous — for you and your parent. And it’s common. Especially if a parent’s bad fall or health crisis has just hijacked your life, or you don’t have help, or won’t allow others to help.
Burnout denial is also common. When you’re doing everything, everywhere, all-at-once, it’s easy to ignore warning signs that you’re in trouble.
Are you past your personal tipping point? Take this free online Caregiver Self-Assessment and find out.
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