Home Sweet Home

If you have elderly parents, you will likely know they will fight long and hard to age in their own home, until the very end, if possible. In fact, many elderly will persistently hide their diminishing capacities in order to stay put.

This presents a significant challenge for adult children who are worrying about Mom and Dad’s health and safety, and struggling to convince them of the need for a move while trying to learn what options are available, not to mention how to pay for them.

You are not alone. A good friend, who is also a gerontologist, not so long ago made a trip home to pay a surprise visit to his parents. On arrival, Gerry found Viagra on the kitchen counter, his mom, who quit smoking 35 years ago, puffing away, and his father, a recovering alcoholic, sipping a black Russian.

His Dad nonchalantly asked, “Want to join me for a cocktail?” Wondering aloud when anarchy had taken place in the household, his parents’ response was swift and uncompromising, “Shut up. We’re 75, and we’ll do as we please.”

This was only the tip of the iceberg. His father had developed macular degeneration, limiting his mental stimulation and the couple’s mobility. His mother was on a cocktail of medications that left her in a constant fog and experiencing frequent falls.

They both became increasingly housebound and isolated. Their diet consisted mostly of snacks.

Gerry knew his parents needed to move into more supportive housing.

As a gerontologist, he had the experience and knowledge to determine what housing arrangement would best suit their needs. He set his plan in motion and helped his parents visit a number of reputable assisted-living residences that would accommodate their dogs. These were promoted as “family field trips.” A residence was chosen and was agreed upon by his parents. But, when the time came to make the move, his father adamantly declared that they “weren’t ready.” This is common.

Unfortunately, the story ends tragically. His parents died in a house fire months after deciding not to relocate. Gerry is determined that as many people learn from it as possible.

Striking a balance between the rights of elderly adults to determine what is best for themselves and our worry for their safety and quality of life is never easy. Do we get them to move closer to us? Do we take charge and make them downsize against their wishes? Do we leave them to their own destiny?

Research shows the more you talk with your parents and the more you assist them in preparing for the challenges that come with aging, the better their quality of life will be. In other words, being proactive rather than reactive benefits everyone.

Peers often have more influence on seniors than do their adult children. Engaging friends, relatives, a family physician or clergy is a good strategy.

We have a tool kit to help guide those difficult conversations with your parents: www.bcit.ca/mobility.

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