Advice about whether your elderly parents should downsize or move abounds. The internet is filled with articles that are either pro or con.
Some of this advice has a clear bias. For example, you’ll see a property or senior living site that explains why your parents should downsize and move as soon as possible. Similarly, some home care services explain why your parents should definitely age in place.
Who can you trust? What should you do about your parent’s situation?
Here are 5 objective questions to ask if you’re trying to decide
1. What does your parent want?
This is, by far, the most important question to ask.
Not surprising, a recent US study determined that 77% of adults older than 50 wanted to age in place. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that an earlier AARP study concluded that 87% of older adults wanted to age at home for the rest of their lives.
In other words, although the overall number of seniors has increased, the percentage who want to age at home has decreased. Moreover, only 59% believe they WILL be able to age in place.
Some possible reasons that some older adults may not be as tied to the family home as they once were may include:
- A history of multiple moves and job transfers as opposed to previous generations who may have lived in the same house all their lives
- An increasing number of adult children and/or grandchildren who live out of state
- Availability of more senior living communities
Still, a vast majority (more than 3 in 4) would indeed like to stay in their homes. In fact, seniors are aging in place more often than earlier generations. This is in part due to better health and other factors.
However, if your parent is reluctant—or downright refusing—to move, it doesn’t matter what the majority of individuals want or are doing. What matters is what your parent wants.
2. What might be some reasons to consider moving?
- Health and safety concerns
- Financial reasons
Keeping Your Parents Safe and Healthy
Some health and safety issues that compel seniors to downsize or move may include:
- Arthritis or mobility issues
- Poor balance
- Inability to continue driving
- Difficulties with medication management
- Physical security and other safety concerns
For example, dementia forced Dolores to move. As her Alzheimer’s disease advanced, it became increasingly more difficult to care for her. She wandered the house at night and tried to leave. Her daughters had many sleepless nights trying to care for Dolores and keep her safe. They decided a dementia care unit was a safer option for their mother. At this point, Dolores was no longer able to decide for herself. What’s more, she did not have the money to pay for the care she needed. An excellent Medicaid option was available nearby, and Dolores moved there.
In another situation, an injury prompted the sale of the family home. Helen resisted leaving her Illinois home and going to live near her children in Iowa. Her church, volunteer work, friends, and memories of her beloved husband were all in Illinois. As an aging healthy adult, she chose to stay in her home—despite her children urging her to move. She even took on a reverse mortgage to support herself. But later, when she became increasingly frailer and more confused, she slipped on the ice, and was injured. It was apparent that she could no longer care for herself, and her children intervened. She now lives in an acute care facility in Iowa where her children and grandchildren can visit her regularly.
Improving Financial Circumstances
Financial considerations compel some older adults to move. Research shows that many seniors are now outliving their retirement funds. In fact, only 36% of American workers are very confident they will be able to retire comfortably. What’s more, 44% of Americans ages 60 to 70 years old still have a mortgage when they retire, and 17% believe they will never pay it off. These considerations may make it more practical to downsize.
For many, the quality of their lives can improve by moving to a more affordable home. A smaller home may leave disposable income for travel, entertainment, or in-home care.
On a fixed retirement income, this allowed them to afford other activities they enjoyed.
Another reason some people move out of their home is for companionship. Currently, nearly 29% of seniors in the community live alone. After age 85, approximately half live alone. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common.
Many seniors living alone also have difficulty adhering to a healthy diet, exercise, or medication regimens. What’s worse, loneliness is as hazardous to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
A precipitating factor for loneliness and its health risks can be the death of a spouse. Often, this is also the catalyst for moving into senior living facilities.
After Grace’s husband died in his mid-80s, several friends and family members cautioned her not to make any major decisions for a year after such a big life change. She chose to remain in the family home for several years. But the isolation—particularly on snowy winters days—left her feeling neglected. She decided to move to an independent senior living condo. Now her calendar is packed with activities with her peers. She does not regret the move.
Another reason some retired Americans move is for a change in lifestyle. With so many senior living communities, many seniors decide to move or downsize to enjoy a better quality of life.
Stefan and Lois (who don’t know each other) both moved to retirement communities after their long-term marriages ended in divorces. For each of them, it offered a fresh start. Stefan played golf, pickle-ball, and bridge. Lois enjoyed pottery and oil painting. Both developed a wide social circle of friends.
3. What might be some reasons to age in place?
If your elderly parents have the financial means to maintain their home and can afford to have home health care and other support services, why shouldn’t they remain in place?
Often, appropriate resources and services are available. What’s more, experts in senior care can help locate and schedule appropriate services. For example, Homethrive Care Guides have a wealth of knowledge and available resources to help people age in place—wherever that might be. They are experts at arranging senior services for their clients.
Often, the concerns that need to be addressed are the same ones that might otherwise compel seniors to move. These issues include:
- Health and safety concerns
- Financial reasons
Attending to Health and Safety Concerns
If an older person wants to age in place, many safety concerns can be addressed at home.
- For example, home modifications, such as grab bars or replacing rugs with wall-to-wall carpet can make living at home safer. Furthermore, medication can be safely managed if someone can stop by for 10 minutes a day to administer it or if they take advantage of technology that helps them adhere to medication dosages and schedules. In addition, technological advances for seniors can allow adults to monitor the safety of their parents.
Mary decided to age in place. Approximately 20 years ago, she sold the home where she raised her family and tried condo living. She hated it and quickly bought another single-family home. Now 92, she remains financially comfortable. Her son-in-law installed a chair lift to enable her to do laundry in her basement. Home health workers take her grocery shopping and help with cleaning. She prefers to cook her own meals. Additionally, church volunteers help with yard work and home repairs.
She’s happy, and even though her health is failing—and not all her children support her decision—Mary doesn’t want to move.
Addressing Financial Issues
Senior living situations can be costly. If the senior’s mortgage is paid off, it may be cheaper to stay at home. It’s important to do the math and not assume that the current living situation is not the best financial alternative—even with the cost of hiring help or making home modifications.
For example, Ginny, 91, had paid off her mortgage and had a senior freeze on her taxes. She found it more affordable to stay in her home and pay for repairs rather than move. Her son, who will inherit the house, helps with regular yard maintenance. A daughter does Ginny’s laundry. She does not plan to move.
Improving Loneliness and Lifestyle
Although living alone can be isolating, many resources and activities are available to keep seniors mentally sharp and engaged. For example, many communities have senior centers with a broad range of activities. What’s more, Homethrive Care Guides can often arrange free transportation and make weekly calls to seniors. Often, adult children appreciate that a Care Guide is interacting with their parent—especially when the son or daughter is at work.
For example, Hazel was calling her son, Jim, at work as many as five times a day. When Hazel began reaching out more often to her Care Guide during the day instead of Jim, Jim was able to focus on his job. It improved the mother-son relationship overall. Plus, Jim worried less, knowing that others were looking out for his mom.
Furthermore, technology makes connecting via videoconferencing easier than ever. Meting virtually with out-of-state children or grandchildren can delight a senior.
Additionally, Homethrive has been able to assist with even the most unusual requests. For example, working with Element3 Health, Homethrive was able to match an elderly Chinese-speaking cello player with a local Chinese-American senior orchestra group.
4. How do you broach the topic of moving or downsizing?
When speaking to your parent about their living situation, it’s important to be respectful and have a conversation rather than a confrontation, ultimatum, or order.
Ask and Listen
Instead, be honest, but ease into the conversation with a sincere, nonjudgmental question.
For example, you might ask, “Have you thought about what your living situation looks like in the future?” Or “Have you ever thought about downsizing or moving?”
Then listen sincerely. Let your parent talk, and acknowledge their feelings.
Change is hard. For many seniors, it’s even more difficult. Offer an alternative if you’re “taking something away.” For example, find out about free transportation alternatives before broaching a subject of taking the car keys away.
You might point out an observation and then proposes choices. For example, you might say, “I care about your safety. I noticed that you have some bruises; and you’ve fallen in the bathtub twice, it might be time to consider either installing some grab bars at home or getting someone to help you during the day.”
Put a Positive Spin on It
Everything has pros and cons. If your parent needs help bathing, you might point out, “You get exhausted every time you take a shower. With someone helping you, you’ll have more energy to go to mahjong, take a walk, or go out to lunch.”
Call in Reinforcements
If you suspect the situation might get tense, you may want to involve a third-party professional such as a Homethrive Care Guide or another social worker. A professional can offer you advice behind the scenes on how to approach your specific situation. Alternatively, she can directly facilitate the conversation with all involved parties.
Sometimes a specific family member is best suited to lead a conversation. Kathy knew her relationship with her mother was “complicated.” As the youngest in a large family, she knew her oldest sibling was more likely to be heard. When it was obvious that a home care situation was needed, she called her sibling, stepped back, and allowed the conversation to go more smoothly. She felt safety concerns trumped her ego and the shift in dynamic would facilitate the best course of action.
5. What are some other considerations?
As mentioned earlier, change is difficult. Taking baby steps rather than making dramatic changes all at once can help ease the stress of transition.
Moving Can be Stressful
The American Institute of Stress, offers a life stress inventory tool. Keep in mind that moving can be stressful. On a scale of 43 items, both “major change in living condition” and “change in residence” make the list.
Additionally, the death of a spouse tops the list, followed by a divorce. That’s why experts recommend postponing major life decisions (such as a move) for one year after the death of a significant other or the end of a marriage.
With that level of stress in mind, it’s helpful to plan ahead. For example, begin the process of cleaning out a family home well in advance, if possible. This can be helpful, save time, and make the transition easier (if need be) later. Even if your parent stays put, they can have more say about what happens to their items after they pass away.
For example, your parents’ home isn’t a museum for your high school trophies or a storage facility for your extra furniture. Haul your stuff away.
If your parent has been in the same home for a long time, the process of cleaning out and organizing may seem crushing to them. Offer your help.
Create a relaxed and supportive process. For example, pick a specific area—perhaps a closet—and spend two hours helping your parent sort through any clutter. Limiting the time may prevent your parent from feeling overwhelmed.
Getting more organized can feel very freeing. Remind your loved one that they can always carry their memories in their heart.
If someone is having difficulty parting with an item, consider taking a photo as a keepsake. Alternatively, donate the item so someone else can enjoy it. Or consider passing it in the family. However, keep in mind what Forbes pointed out:
Meg found this to be true. When she was downsizing, she shared her hard-earned “treasures” with her oldest daughter who had her own home.
At one point her daughter asked, “When are you going to stop giving me ‘crap’ from the house?”
When it comes to moving your parents, weigh the pros and cons. Ask questions. Be creative in your thinking, and consider the alternatives. If you’re not familiar with the resources in your parent’s community, reach out to a Homethrive Care Guide. They are senior experts who can help.