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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Bell

Are Your Parents' Safety Needs Being Met?

For those of us who weathered the ice storm that still leaves thousands of people without heat and light in their homes, it can be a time to reflect.  This weather inspired emergency over the Holidays will undoubtedly generate some thought and discussion about living situations that really are no longer safe or workable.

Many of you felt understandably concerned and rightly assumed responsibility for caring for aging family members and neighbours who remained in their homes through conditions that, by any civilized standards, were simply not acceptable.  Some of these older folks felt safer in their own familiar surroundings, however frigid and dark, than in others’ homes, hotels or warming centres. 

These aging family members are often fiercely independent and are just as adamant about not discussing any possibility of change.  From your perspective, a move to a condo or a retirement residence would undoubtedly improve their quality of life but, at the present time, such a transition is just too overwhelming for your older adult to consider.

I had a conversation with a friend over the holidays and we explored her concerns about her mother-in-law.  The family home that she owns has deteriorated as she has neglected routine maintenance for the last few years.  She is essentially living in two rooms but is not willing to engage in any discussion of future housing options.  Her caring – and essentially polite – family members are reluctant to push too hard, instead granting this elderly woman her right to self-determination. This situation is sadly being played out in many families across the Greater Toronto Area.

What can you do if you are in such a situation yourself?

The first thing that you can do is to listen, really listen to what your family member is saying and in some cases, not saying.  They may be contending with underlying anxiety or depression that may be alleviated with medical attention.  Encouraging them to maintain regular visits with their family doctor may be an important base to cover.    There may also be an underlying issue that is a major stumbling block for your parent.  Being able to take a beloved pet could make all the difference in your parent’s attitude toward a move.  Many retirement homes and some condominiums have a pet friendly policy and for some, this could be real game changer.

The second thing is to try and get other family member(s) or close family friends involved as well.  While they might not approach things in the same way you would, they may well share your concern for the health and well-being of your aging parent.  If communications are difficult (and you are certainly not alone with that one) bringing in an objective third party to help you manage some of the more contentious family dynamics can make a huge difference. 

The third thing is to share well defined responsibilities with any available siblings.  If one person in the family is good with finances, discuss the possibility of that family member assuming more of those kinds of responsibilities.  If another family member has what I often refer to as “navigational abilities”, perhaps that individual is the ideal person to begin exploring options for on-going assistance within your parents’ existing home.  This might be as simple as hiring a cleaner who comes in once a week or it might involve meal delivery or personal care supports.  Your parent’s safety is the number one consideration and the additions of these types of assistance can be sensitively and gradually incorporated into their routines.

Throughout such a change process there can be on-going and non-confrontational discussions around the benefits of making a move.  I am currently working with a client who essentially made the decision to move from her condo to a retirement residence during this past spring.  She emotionally needed the time to process the decision and we are now working together to downsize her extensive collections and treasured memorabilia.  Having had the time to think everything through, she is a willing and insightful participant in her transition, making wise decisions and maintaining her autonomy throughout.

For those of you involved in helping an older adult with such a transition, involving an independent third party can go a long way in strengthening relationships and giving you back the gifts of time and peace of mind. 

All the Best to You and Yours in 2014!

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