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Life Transitions

Helping Aging Parents Move

Here's how you can help them make the change.

En español | My wise sister Karen once told me that change is messy, no matter how much you plan for it. I can testify to that! As my siblings and I have helped my parents make "The Big Move" from their home of 28 years, my family has undergone monumental change.

It has been messy.

See also: Tips to Rightsize and Redesign Your Home for the Life You Want to Live Now.

I'm writing this column to tell you about the move, in hopes that our story will help the millions of you out there who are going through similar situations. Sometimes we can learn from each other's mistakes instead of making them ourselves.

My parents, Patricia, age 83 this month, and Robert, age 86 next month, decided it was time to move into a community geared for supporting and assisting older adults. Dad was tired of caring for the house and yard. A more urgent reason—and the common impetus for older adults moving into alternative housing—was that Mom was recently hospitalized after a bad case of the flu, which had weakened her. This illness and a stroke she had 20 years ago left her in need of more help. But the clincher was when Dad had to stop driving. At that point, he declared vehemently, "If I can't drive, then we are ready to move—like TOMORROW." And so the bedlam began.

During the transition, it was clear that Mom wasn't as excited about The Big Move as Dad was. She loved her home and felt moving would be a huge loss. She acknowledged that Dad had most of the responsibility for keeping up the house, but her heart still had a hard time letting go. Sensitivity to her viewpoint was essential; no one wants to be "told" she has to move. We allowed her time to get used to the idea, and that made a big difference emotionally.

The Caregiver's World of Pressure
It was, perhaps, one of the toughest choices I've ever had to participate in making. I have worked in the field of aging for 25 years, so perhaps I know too much. I was fully aware of the repercussions of my parents winding up in the wrong place. As a baby boomer and caregiver, I want the very best for my Mom and Dad; they deserve it.

While it is absolutely important to include older parents in the decision-making process as much as possible—without overwhelming them (a delicate balance)—they rely on us to advise them on such matters. We didn't want to screw it up. Visions of unhappy Mom and Dad receiving poor care literally haunted my sleep. The responsibility of this decision was 10 times heavier than if I had been choosing my own new home. We had to look into the future without a handy crystal ball and know what Mom and Dad might need as they age. This had to be right.

Determining Wants and Needs
I traveled from Washington, D.C., to Phoenix and spent several weeks looking at facilities with one of my three sisters, Susie, who lives near my parents. We all sat down and made a list of things they wanted and needed in their new home.

I used a flip chart, which greatly helped my parents participate in the decision-making, even though their first inclination was to say "whatever you think." Once we got started, they found there were quite a few things that were important to them. The list included things such as an attractive buildings and ambience, friendly people, stimulating activities, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a washer and dryer in the apartment, decent meals, services in their apartment to remind them to take their medications, stand-by bathing help, flexibility of care for their future needs, transportation to doctors' appointments and other key, routine stops (the two most important being Dad's massage and Mom's hair appointment). Most important were a safe, shaded place to walk the dog, the ability to install a doggie door, and a fenced-in area for Jackson, their schnoodle, to do his business.

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