Planning Ahead for Your Parents’ Future, Part 2

In the first article in this series, we shared a few techniques to help adult children more effectively start a conversation with their parents about the sensitive topic of aging. 

In this article, we’ll take a step further and talk about what to do once the discussion progresses beyond those early startup stages. We’ll look at some options families consider, share the positive and potentially challenging aspects of each, along with some tips on how to better evaluate each scenario.  

Aging in Place 

There’s a good reason the saying “home is where the heart is” resonates so deeply. In many ways, our homes are the most concrete physical reminder of the experiences we’ve shared with our family and friends. Cookouts, birthdays, raising children, first dates, family dinners, all of these and a million other memories weave a fabric that represents what our lives have been all about. So it should come as no surprise that upward of 90 percent of seniors want to age in place in their own home, according to research from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).  

For many seniors, the idea of leaving their own home before they’re ready means losing a sense of control and independence and facing one’s own mortality. As we discussed in the first article, staying positive and emphasizing choice is a great way to help your parents feel empowered.  

Rather than focusing on specific challenges of aging in place in their current home, explore the benefits a change can bring, such as living closer to family (especially grandkids), less or no household maintenance, less space to clean and furnish, single-level living that makes it easier to get around, group transportation and social activities and much more.  

Living With a Family Member 

In the past, as they aged, parents would often move in with their adult children, who would become their caretakers. This is still common today, and certainly there is nobody more interested in a parent’s well-being than their child, but it comes with several factors to consider. While new housemates of any sort would make an impact on an adult’s life, living with and taking care of one’s own parents brings with it a wholly new dynamic for everyone involved. Consider the changes to your lifestyle and your home that may become necessary as your parents’ needs change. As these changes happen, your parents may understandably feel that they’re being a burden on you and your family, preventing you from enjoying freedom from being their caretakers. These and other stresses can affect day-to-day spouse and parent/child relationships across all generations.  

Be sure to develop a plan for how to proceed if and when your parents’ needs progress beyond what you can provide for in your home. Planning ahead will make any transition much easier for everyone involved.  

Joining a Senior Living Community 

Few phrases in our society carry more unwarranted stigma than the following two words: nursing home. While today’s continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are nothing like decades-old perceptions of nursing homes, that idea may be exactly what some aging parents have in their minds from experiences in the past with their own parents.  

Experiencing the community first-hand 

Consider attending one of the many community activities most communities host as a way of introducing your parents to what life at a CCRC could be like. We’re talking outdoor jazz concerts, art workshops, holiday celebrations and much more. Seeing and experiencing an active community is the best way for many to envision what life would be like. In fact, today’s best communities are incredibly active and intelligently designed for seniors at all stages of life. Many even incorporate features like a pool, walking trails, and extra desserts at dinner that are extra popular with visiting grandkids.  

Peace of mind of long-term planning 

One of the great benefits of starting planning early is that you can talk to your parents about the incredible independent living options available at many CCRCs. These apartments all offer the freedom and independence of living in one’s own home, without the hassles of home maintenance. Plus, from day 1 they’ll enjoy the peace of mind of knowing that if and when their needs change over the years, there’s a plan in place to access additional care services and other levels of living, such as assisted living and memory care.  

You are your parents’ best advocate 

When considering a CCRC or any option, adult children often play a key role in assessing the pros and cons of each situation. Are the amenities of the community right for what your parents want or need? Is the location (urban, rural, coastal, etc.) where your parents want to be? What’s the care like throughout the spectrum of living options (independent, assisted living, memory care, etc.)? Is the location close enough for family to visit often? Does the community offer the right type of financial arrangement that fits your parents’ budget? As you review living options with your parents, remember that this is an especially emotional time for them, so your attention to detail and willingness to ask important questions is more important than ever.  

The impact on family dynamic 

One of the more easily overlooked aspects of this decision process is how each option might affect the overall family relationship dynamic. If you and any of your siblings effectively become part-time caretakers for your parents who’ve chosen to age in place at their home, how does that change the feeling of family visits, holidays, and other celebratory times? It can be difficult to take off the caretaker hat and just be present and enjoy time together. If you’re sharing caretaker responsibilities with siblings, will juggling responsibilities cause tension if someone feels they’re doing more than their share?  

At a CCRC, all these questions about healthcare needs now and for the future are taken care of, freeing the family to focus on sharing time together and simply enjoying each other during visits. This can be a relief not just for you and your siblings, but for your parents as well. No one wants to feel they’re a burden on the people they love the most.  

The move is just the start 

If your family does choose a CCRC, remember that move-in day is really the beginning of a transitional period that can last for as many as six months or more, so your continued support and encouragement is key to helping ensure a positive experience. Talk often, observe your parents with a keen eye, and ask a lot of questions. Are they making new friends? Participating in the community’s events? While there is no “right” pace to explore and integrate into a new community, you’ll get a sense of whether your parents are feeling good about their new place. Extra visits and even offering to join your parents at public events can be a great way to help them get out there and experience the community.  

Additional Resources and Support 

An important thing to remember is that you’re not on your own. Your parents’ family physician can help you understand more about what their healthcare needs are now, and what they might be in the future.  Before tapping into financial resources like a reverse mortgage or lines of credit, consult a financial planner to get a better idea of what your parents can afford and how to best manage their assets for the long term.  

Being Actively Involved is the Key to Success 

By reading articles like this one and taking the time to consider the many living options available to your parents, you’re doing the most important thing you possibly can: being involved. No one will be a better advocate for your parents than you, and your support will be key to helping them approach this decision with a positive outlook. It will be an emotionally-taxing process, and the many options and details can sometimes feel overwhelming, but by taking the time to really evaluate each scenario you’ll be well on your way to ensuring your parents can put their focus during their retirement years right where it needs to be: enjoying their life each and every day.