As the Executive Director of an 80-bed assisted living and memory care community, I have seen countless scenarios where children try talking their parent, or parents, into assisted living. Many of these meetings have been successful while some have been disastrous, like the time a family decided not to tell their mother she was moving into our community (and didn’t tell us either, of this decision). Instead, they moved in their mother’s belongings, then dropped her off on her move-in day. Only after this 94-year-old woman pushed her way back out the front door, into the parking lot and ran around in circles as fast as her 94-year-old body could move, while trying to stuff tissues down her throat, did the truth come out.
Obviously, the first, most obvious, step is to make sure to talk to your parent, or parents, about moving him, her, or both of them, into assisted living. After this step, then what? Of those who have experienced the most success, the following steps have proven most helpful:
1 – Make sure all interested parties meet together to get on the same page regarding whether or not this move is necessary.
2 – Remember, this meeting is based on one point: whether or not the parent is safe in his or her home. Make a list of reasons why the parent is no longer safe in his or her home. If the decision is made that the parent is no longer safe, agree on who will meet with the parent, when and where.
3 – Upon meeting with the parent, remember to listen to what the parent is trying to say. What does the parent really mean by what he or she is stating? If a parent says he or she does not want to move into assisted living, ask him or her to help you make a list of the reasons why this is how he or she feels, keeping in mind solutions to each problem listed. Most parents do not want to move into assisted living because they fear being forgotten or dying alone. Touch on these topics while remembering that when a listener takes less than three minutes to respond to the speaker, this usually indicates that the listener is not really listening to understand but listening only to respond. Your first goal should be to understand, so statements such as “I cannot imagine how hard this must be,” are validating to a parent and show you are really listening. Then, reassure him or her that you will be there for him or her, even to the point where you talk about what days and times would be best for your visits. This helps begin to paint a picture for your parent(s) that creates a successful conclusion.
4 – Walk with your parent emotionally, then steer him, her or them, into making the safest decision possible, reminding the parent that moving into assisted living is based solely on safety.,
5 – Suggest that the parent “try” assisted living. “Trying” makes the parent feel as if he or she still has a choice in the matter. To “try” assisted living means using a 30-day vacate notice from the second they step in the front door. Since most assisted livings require a 30-day vacate notice, have the parent move in while immediately letting the management know that a 30-day notice is in place as the parent “tries out” the senior community. I had one resident who carried her vacate notice around for months, but she never moved out. Rarely does a senior move out once they’ve moved in. It’s just finding the right way to get him or her in the front door.
6 – Another helpful hint is to go on vacation and have the parent stay as a respite stay. Most parents will agree to this, and then plan (by coming up with a reason why the stay has to be extended) on using a respite stay as your move in. Sometimes the parent must stay because the house has had a flood or is in the middle of some type of repair that requires a longer stay. Eventually, respite furniture is replaced with the parent’s furniture until, one by one, the parent’s apartment is filled with his or her own furniture and the respite room becomes the parent’s permanent residence.
7 – Another approach is to meet with the parent’s doctor and arrange for the doctor to tell the parent he or she is no longer safe in his or her home and must move into assisted living. Most seniors will obey a doctor’s order.
8 – Have the parent join you in visiting the top three properties you have previously selected. Help the parent see why this is not his or her parent’s 1960’s nursing home, but more like a modern-day cruise ship with all of the amenities.
9. Be patient with the parent’s fluctuating emotions during this time. Work with the senior community or the Alzheimer’s Association or a support group to help make this transition happen as smoothly as possible for everyone involved.
10. Make sure the apartment is fully furnished with the parent’s belongings and even a few extra treats to show them you really will not forget him or her–order their favorite newspaper or magazine, have their favorite candy in a bowl on the counter or a white board with everyone’s phone numbers written in large letters across the board.
11. If all else fails, and your parent is unsafe in his or her own home, and he or she is not rational enough to accept this, there are other ways to make sure the move happens. Many times behavior centers can help. A behavioral center is considered a hospital stay. Usually these centers have around twelve residents, all of whom have mental needs. A behavioral stay must come as a result of a doctor’s order. Most residents will do whatever a doctor recommends, so it becomes easier to get a senior into one of these centers and then into assisted living. Behavioral stays can last from a few days to a few weeks. The center will monitor the seniors medications and make sure, based on behaviors, that he or she is appropriate and ready to be transitioned into assisted living.
Whatever you believe. they will believe. Whatever you feel, they will feel. Remember, life does not stop at an assisted living’s front door, so make sure to lead the way into this next rewarding adventure.