Family dynamics have dramatically changed in the last few decades. More elderly people have no choice but to move into an assisted living or a personal care facility. Often times the senior has already sustained an injury because they are lacking the support that they need to remain safely in their own home.
With so many of their adult children being in the "sandwich Generation", there is frequently a void in the ability to care adequately for an aging parent. Much of the time, the family will see the need to make a change in their loved ones living situation long before they are able to make it happen. Care providers exercise due diligence to encourage the person that a change is needed and their health and safety are at risk if they stay where they are. Even then, encouraging the older adult to make this decision can be a very difficult one.
When aging further at home is absolutely no longer an option and family begins "the talks" with their loved one or when there is no family and a social worker or medical professional must encourage the senior to make the necessary change, it is most often met with a highly emotional response. There are 3 primary reasons why the aging adult responds to the need to relocate so negatively.
FEAR OF LEAVING THEIR LIFE AS THEY KNOW IT
Being uprooted from their home can be beyond heartbreaking. The memories and life created in the home make it very difficult to make a change. Sometimes the senior may have just lost a spouse and leaving the home may make them feel like the husband or wife will be forgotten. They enjoy seeing where the lost loved one once read the paper or ate breakfast. They may have raised their children in the home. Leaving those irreplaceable hand prints in the driveway or old wooden swing in the tree can stir great senses of sadness, anger and depression.
The great news is most senior living facilities allow them to bring a certain amount of personal belongings. Family can assist them to pick select items that mean the most to them can immensely help them have a sense security. Photo albums, favorite wall hangings or quilts and even the hand prints from their driveway can be brought with them. Helping the aging family member to understand that they can bring their memories and some important items along can reduce anxiety and resistance to the move.
FEAR OF LOSING INDEPENDENCE
Seniors often associate ALL facilities, or even retirement apartments, as a place where "old folks" just go and sit around with nothing to do and no freedoms. It is a common misconception among older adults that they may be neglected. They worry that they will never get to choose what they eat, what they watch on TV, when they get to use the restroom and so on. Many have a "jail like" mentality. They will say things like, "I am not going to let you lock me up and throw away the key". They want to make sure that they can shower when they want and have a space they feel is their own. They fear losing control of their routine and identity.
When the elderly and their decision makers begin to understand that most senior living locations provide personalized care, this will help dispel the myths that create fear and apprehension about relocating. Having a better understanding about what a facility does to ensure the client feels in control, will help to encourage loved ones to be more confident in their move.
FEAR OF ISOLATION & BEING ALONE
The fear of being forgotten about is very real for many elderly people. When they can no longer stay at home or with their adult child, they worry that once they are "put away", no one will come visit. They may have, until recently, had a strong social life. They may have had neighbors that visited regularly or lived with grandchildren that frequently kept them company. The fear of losing these connections can result in being very opposed to relocating. The elderly often express the misconception that an independent or assisted living community is like a hospital setting. Sterile and professional rather than warm and homey. Or, they worry that they will be surrounded by "sick old people".
Taking well planned tours will help them to overcome their fear of isolation. If they are unable to tour, have information on hand that shows the activities available and the warmth and friendliness of the atmosphere. Communicating to them that they can have many visitors and take day trips will be encouraging. Family can remind and assure the loved one that they WILL visit. Maybe even write out a schedule of visits and plans that the senior can see.
As family of and decision makers of the aging adult, it is important that we have a game plan to help them overcome some of their fears. Listening and showing compassion and understanding are of the utmost importance. Having a "pocketful" of back up support is very helpful. There are many services that can assist to make a seniors transition easier and more comfortable. The more resources you have, the more successful we can be in assisting the aging loved one through the changes they face.