A unique experience awaits many of us as we enter our late 40s or early 50s. We see our parents reinvent their lives as they enjoy retirement and find meaning in new activities, relationships, and experiences. There are many ways we can support our parents through these transitions. As their children, we’ve been a big part of their lives for decades. We’ve seen them change during previous transitions in their relationships, roles, and responsibilities. We’re in a unique position to help them prepare for the next season of life.
When should we help?
We may begin to see changes that surprise us. Often these are small, such as not eating as well or the same type of food as in the past. A parent who has been meticulous about keeping cupboards stocked and the fridge clean may have bare shelves and the fridge may hold some foods that have expired. Perhaps a parent has become challenged by self-care, from bathing to dressing.
Our challenge as adult children is that these changes can be subtle. This is especially true for parents with well-developed social skills. They are often assertive and can explain away simple lapses in memory or minor hurdles throughout the day. After all, we all lose our keys from time to time. At what point should we choose to help our parents?
Aging parents work through many emotions during such a transition. So do their children. Everyone benefits from a conversation about what these changes mean. What’s really going on? What does this new reality mean for a parent’s safety, peace of mind, and happiness?
One of the most important aspects to address in older age is maintaining an active social life. Vivienne Hauck, CEO of LutherCare Communities, recently oversaw the development of an independent living and intermediate care facility in Stonebridge named The Village. This facility, co-owned by Meridian Developments, is an example of the trend toward community-focused living.
“Researchers have found that preventing loneliness leads to improved physical health and functional and cognitive ability,” Hauck explains. “Just the other day an adult child came up to me and explained how prior to moving in, her mother was losing weight and was socially isolated. Now she has regained her weight and reconnected with people. It was a dramatic change in her physical and mental health.”
Planning ahead allows people to consider how they will enjoy life. Who will they spend time with? How will they fill their days?
It’s best for people in their 60s or 70s to have conversations with their children or even a family friend about whether their affairs are in order. This helps ensure the basics are taken care of, such as having a will that reflects their wishes and selling or giving away assets that might not be needed as people begin to downsize their homes. It is also helpful to plan for the type of assisted living they would like and for the anticipated timeframe for transition. Even though these personal and direct conversations are difficult, the result is a much healthier outcome – not just for the parents, but for their adult children as well.
When an aging parent begins to discuss their situation, it’s an opportunity for them to shape the next stage in their life. It can be a positive and invigorating experience. Planning ahead allows people to consider how they will enjoy life. Who will they spend time with? How will they fill their days?
Adult children look through a different lens. As time progresses, a parent’s changing ability to care for themselves raises questions of safety and health. What level of risk is appropriate to live with?
Moving to a new home with services they need to live independently can be difficult. There are practical considerations, but at the heart of it the hurdles to cross are emotional. Parents have legitimate concerns. They want to know their money will not run out and that they will be healthy and happy.
When it is time to choose a new home, the option that works best will allow people to live their own life and also be comfortable and safe.
Adult children helping their parents through a transition to a new home environment want to make sure their parents have a fulfilling life.
As people age, the reality is that there are fewer and fewer attainable choices as they determine their new lifestyle. It’s important for us to support people as they make decisions for themselves.
One way people can maintain a feeling of control in their lives is to have flexibility around meal options. Having a full kitchen in their suite means people can choose to prepare their own food. Choosing to either share a meal with friends or select one from a flexible meal program provides additional variety.
Deciding how to spend your day is central to enjoying a new home environment. Some people enjoy walking to take care of errands, such as banking. Others leap into the joy of a new hobby. People want experiences that are different from those they had in earlier stages of life but are just as rewarding. Many have been intellectually and socially stimulated through travel, a challenging and rewarding career, and strong social ties to the community. Essentially, there is a choice we all need to make as we age: do we want to remain challenged and seek out opportunities that continue to shape who we are as people?
Hauck reflects on her experiences with a variety of people living in The Village. “It’s important to stay connected to our broader community in Saskatoon. The way this happens is different for each person. Some of the people in our building will have their alumni from their years in school, or business associates, in for lunch. Others are members of service clubs. We need to avoid isolation and be part of the community.” Whatever the living situation,
it’s important that the home environment be an extension of their social life rather than shutting them off from the greater community.
As we support our parents through this transition, it’s crucial to help them select a supportive, respectful environment that recognizes each person’s unique talents and interests. This is important to all of us – whatever our stage of life.
First published in the March 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.