“My mom is not safe by herself but she refuses help!” “My dad can’t manage alone anymore but he won’t go to assisted living”. As a consultant in the aging field working with families, I hear the complaints. The issue the adult children see is stubbornness. The aging parents see the family as intruding, and having no business telling them what to do. Families are worried, but as long as the elder in their lives is competent to make decisions, even unsafe ones, there is no way to force moving anywhere on them.
Having experienced this personally with my then 90 year old mother in law, Alice, I know how frustrating it can be to try to persuade a reluctant elder to make a life change like giving up their home. Alice was widowed at 86, after 63 years of marriage. She had always been relatively healthy and very independent in many things. But she was slowing down physically in many areas and that was what we worried about. She was at least two hours away from family and many of her local friends were also slowing down. It was uncomfortable for us to think of her being alone in case of emergency. We had a couple of medical scares, but she survived and continued to refuse the idea of moving closer to any family member. She lived alone at 90, still drove a car and was able to keep her doctor’s appointments, social activities and exercise routine going. We repeatedly brought up the subject of giving up managing a house and how much easier it would be. We took her to assisted living facilities, we introduced her to friendly people there and described all the logical reasons why it would make sense to move. Nothing doing. Logic has nothing to do with the fear of losing one’s independence. She was set in her ways and she told us she would let us know when or if she felt like moving.
Her first concession was to give up the big house she and her husband had shared for many years in a pleasant seniors’ development with seemingly endless activities and opportunities to socialize. When she agreed to sell it, we thought this was the opportune time to get her into a seniors’ apartment. But no. Instead, she chose to rent a smaller house in the same neighborhood. The benefit was that she got rid of truckloads of stuff she no longer needed. She now had cash to pay for care if she chose that. But she also decided she didn’t need care nor help. No helper was going to live in the spare bedroom, thank you. “I want my privacy!” she said vehemently. We had to be patient.
She had arthritis, vision issues, hearing loss, leg pain, kidney and bladder trouble, unstable blood pressure and took 14 pills every day. You’d think that would be enough to persuade someone to accept help, right? No, all that wasn’t enough. We gently brought up over and over again that we were worried about her living by herself. She was dismissive every time. We got ever more concerned about her by the time she was age 92, still living alone.
Finally, one day out of the blue, she called my husband and said, “OK, I’m ready”. He asked her what she was ready for and she said to move to a seniors’ apartment. He nearly dropped the phone! He asked her what had brought her to the decision. She replied that she was trying to change a light bulb and with the arthritis in her hands she couldn’t do it, so she decided she had had enough of struggling. We were shocked and relieved at the same time. We sprang into action before she could change her mind and got her set up in an seniors’ apartment close to her daughter. She made that choice of where to live. She was able to maintain her sense of independence, despite missing her prior home. Ultimately she admitted that she did have everything she needed in daily life and it was good that she could call the front desk if the garbage disposal got stuck or if a light bulb needed changing. To see a short video, Alice’s perspective of her decision. Click HERE.
Alice made a life there for the next three years until her last days. She slowly adapted to community living and joined many of the available activities. There were plenty of complaints but basically help was on hand when she needed it.
Alice’s transition out of her home was not because of our urging, though having shown her around some seniors’ communities two years earlier did prepare her and help her with the decision. She made the move in her own good time. Fortunately, it was not thrust upon her by a fall or other sudden medical change. She felt in control over her decision and that was the most important thing we could give her.
The takeaways from AgingParents.com:
If your aging parent needs to give up living alone, he or she needs to feel a sense of control over the decision–you can’t force it.
Gentle persuasion works better than any argument.
Fear of losing independence is almost universal. It can masquerade as stubbornness.
Patience can pay off.