Helping Your Parent to Leave the Nest (or, How to Smooth An Elder’s Transition into a Group Living Facility)

Story by Pamela Price

This story originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of the Leon Springs Community News.

As Baby Boomers begin their journey through old age, many middle and young adults will find themselves facing new challenges. Chief among them may be the decision to move an elderly family member from a beloved home to a group living facility.

For some families, this process will be easy. The senior may embrace the opportunity. For others, the experience can be difficult for everyone.

Faced with the prospect of change, some senior citizens may fear their loss of independence. Consequently they may say or do hurtful things to family members seeking to help them do what’s best to ensure safety and well-being. Other seniors, particularly those suffering from the early stages of dementia, may want to cling to their home and possessions to feel anchored to reality.

For adult children, the following tips and strategies may be helpful.

Release the Guilt

“A lot of times the first thing that family members experience is a feeling of guilt,” says Sally Goode, nursing director at The Lodge at Leon Springs on Boerne Stage Road. “They feel bad that they can’t provide the quality or amount of care that their parent needs at home. They’ve got careers, kids, and other responsibilities that need attention, too.”

Goode suggests that the family regard assisted living and nursing home facilities as “a service to the whole family.” With paid professional staff to assist with the day-to-day caretaking matters, the family is “free to focus on the fun stuff, the family stuff, that their elder enjoys most.”

Research Options

Group living options range from assisted living (minimal staff assistance), nursing homes (round-the-clock access to nurses), and nursing homes with lockdown care units for Alzheimer’s patients and others suffering with severe dementia. Another option is an independent living facility, in which residents live in their own houses or apartments but with access to common areas.

Just as there are different kinds of facilities, each individual facility has its own approach, a fact that demands families look closely (and in person) at several options before making a selection. Remember: the more one-on-one care required from staff, the higher the cost. Note that patients who require Medicaid to cover their expenses will be limited to nursing home care.

Make a Plan B

As we age, our health can take a sudden turn for the worse. For families looking at assisted living facilities in particular, it is wise to look at what rehabilitation services are available in the area should Mom or Dad be hospitalized and require more extensive care in either the short or long term.
Note too that some businesses may be hybrids of the various types. The Lodge is classified an independent and assisted living facility, yet Goode notes that “we really regard ourselves as an ‘end of life’ facility. We are prepared to secure hospice care for our terminal patients and work with home health nurses for other patients in need of additional medical support.”

Present the Options Carefully

With few exceptions, family members can expect resistance to the idea of making such a drastic change in living arrangements. “This sort of leads to ‘guilt revisited.’ To make the most persuasive case to your senior, you need to figure out what motivates them to make decisions and work from there,” says Goode.
For example, a family member with a love of nature may enjoy considering a facility with a more rural setting. Another elder who loves children may be motivated to move closer to a family member with young kids willing to visit regularly.

“We tell families to talk first about ‘respite care,’” says Goode, referring to a form of short-term relief for caregivers. Many seniors may be willing to give a facility a try if it’s not presented as a permanent solution right away. Goode says many seniors, once settled for a month or two, decide on their own to stay put.
“More independent patients will have more trouble with the adjustment, so you have to get more creative,” says Goode. “And you may have to be more frank in talking about possible scenarios, especially with regard to falls and strokes. If a senior has already been hospitalized with a stroke, for instance, you may remind them that it could very well happen again. You may want to say ‘This is your last chance to make the decision about where you will live before someone else makes it for you.’”

Emphasize Loving Relationships

Regular visits in person and via telephone are important to seniors—especially in the early weeks and months after a move, providing everyone with the opportunity to exchange stories, memories, and news in a relaxed way. Mail from far-flung friends and relatives is welcome, too. Most facilities have public areas where families can play cards or other games. Some eldercare business offer lively activities calendars that provide family-friendly events year round, especially at the holidays.

It’s important to remember that during the last years of one’s life and with the natural fears about the future, many seniors may take out their anxiety and frustration on other people. “To a senior, caretakers can become ‘the enemy’ because we have stay on top of their medical needs. We often have to insist they do some things that they don’t enjoy,” said Goode. “In a professional caretaking setting, we’re used to this frustration and can take it. That allows the family, again, to focus on more positive social time. And that’s the good stuff.”

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