Your parents may still live in the same home where they have resided for decades. If so, it’s important to recognize that aging sometimes presents a number of physical and cognitive challenges that can make even the simplest household chores feel overwhelming.
The Importance of Listening
For seniors, maintaining a home is usually a source of pride. But ordinary household projects that were once handled with ease may now be viewed with frustration and anxiety.
The problem may not be obvious at first. But listen closely to otherwise offhand conversations and you may sense that Mom and Dad feel stress:
That last snowfall, your father couldn’t get everything shoveled. Had to leave the last part. Won’t be able to open the back door till spring.
We decided that the garden is just too much this year.
Don’t worry, I’m fine, but I took a bit of a tumble trying to clean the gutters.
What to do? It might be tempting to suggest that your parents just hire help. And that may be a good solution if they have the budget for it. However, many people on fixed incomes do not. Moreover, many seniors will reject the idea of paying someone else to do what they have always been able to undertake on their own. So even if the additional expense for hired help is not a burden, they might find the idea hard to swallow.
There are other strategies to consider if Mom and Dad have reached a point where the challenges of homeownership seem to be causing distress.
Many products are available to help seniors age in place. Some are as basic as grab bars, which can be installed in halls and bathrooms. Simple tools can help seniors in many ways, from opening sticky jars to getting hard-to-reach objects. Less simple, but readily available, are chairs and recliners that can lift seated folks into a standing position, and automatic door openers that can be installed to help seniors with mobility issues maneuver more easily.
Technology is catching up with the aging demographic. High-tech apps are available that help aging parents and their loved ones monitor appliance usage, schedule household maintenance, organize personal calendars and stay in touch with each other. There are even talking thermostats that will help folks with low vision adjust their home’s climate controls.
It may even make sense to consult a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). These trained professionals understand the home remodeling market and the resources that are available for seniors wishing to remain in their homes as the age.
Finally, although the prospect of moving out of the family home may feel somewhat daunting to older parents and their children, the logical and more attractive solution may be to consider moving to a more age-friendly environment
Be Proactive in Supporting Your Loved Ones
If you sense that your parents are beginning to struggle with the responsibilities of homeownership, the time to take action is now. Talk about their plans for the future. Offer your help and support in realizing those plans. Waiting until their living environment presents dangerous conditions, or their physical or cognitive abilities have deteriorated, will only limit the number of potential solutions for a safe and healthy living arrangement.
Starting a conversation with your aging parents about where and how they want to live in their old age may feel intimidating. Here are some ideas on getting that conversation started:
1. Discuss the situation beforehand with your siblings and/or other family members.
2. Get some help on having the conversation itself. EverSafe®, a company that helps families protect themselves against identity theft and senior financial exploitation, has a great guide called Having That Difficult Conversation With Your Aging Parents.
3. Make sure you fully understand the wide variety of senior living options. For instance, in terms of support and care services available, there are specific differences between gated senior communities, assisted living residences and nursing homes.
Once the conversation is started, the best reassurance you can give your aging parents is that you care and that you are available to help. Reinforcing that there are options will be comforting to your parents and, with advance preparation, you will have them available to share.
Talking with your parents about a plan for their future residential needs will likely enable them to live independently for as long as possible. The importance of being proactive will only serve to give them time to evaluate options — before there is a crisis.