Deciding to move an aging parent into a retirement facility is never easy. Here’s the info you need to make the best decisions for your loved ones
A fall was the deciding factor for Ted Pidgeon. “I’m guessing my mother was like many other aging parents,” says Pidgeon. “She wanted to stay in her own home, but was really getting too frail.”
It was only after heart surgery, a bout of septicemia and then a fall, that Pidgeon’s mother, Grace, finally agreed to move into a retirement residence. Now 95, she is comfortably ensconced at Waterford Retirement Residence. “She seems quite happy,” says Pidgeon, “and for me, it’s a huge relief that she is safe. Thankfully, her brain is intact, but she does have to be prodded a bit to take part in any activities.” Pidgeon says he used to do a lot with his mother after his father passed away in 2009. These days, when he sees Grace three times a week, their activities are limited to walking around Waterford’s atrium or otherwise just having a quiet visit. “Now it’s a special time to look at old pictures. I’m really looking at our relationship through a different lens. The person who used to do all the caring is now being cared for.”
He recalls trying to find the right retirement residence for his mother on his own and “really struggling. I really had no idea where to start, what to look for, or how to decide what was best for my mother.” Help came in the form of Solva Senior Living. “The assistance I got from Caroline Inman at Solva Senior Living was a relief, and it was free.”
Inman, the executive director, has seen it all. “I understand the reluctance of considering the retirement residence or community option,” she says. “But sometimes, even a tiny bit of pre-planning, or at least having that conversation with your family, helps avoid a potential crisis.” Inman says there are clues for family members to watch for in aging parents and relatives. She says to look for parts of the house being unused. If food is being provided, is it being eaten? Has there been a change in routine? (Which she admits is harder to detect because of COVID-19.) Has there been a change in behaviour? “At Solva Senior Living, we understand the fear of change,” says Inman. “Seniors who have been fiercely independent all their lives often don’t want to be a burden. But making that decision and moving into a retirement residence can be a good option for care and peace of mind for the family.”
Inman emphasizes that there are so many options available where you can live your life on your own terms. There is still plenty of freedom in a retirement community that includes everything in their price, and the socializing and activities available are important as well, she says. “If it’s still healthy and safe to remain at home, that’s great. But when you do look at retirement living, plan for today’s needs but keep potential future needs in mind.”
Geraldine Dixon, the business development manager in Ottawa for Chartwell Retirement Residences, recommends that adult children “talk to your parents, now. I have a 35-year-old daughter, a millennial, and she is already asking me about what my choices might be for the future. It’s never too early to start that conversation.” Dixon also says that things have changed in the last 10 years. She finds more people are waiting until their health deteriorates or are in a crisis before they make any lifestyle changes. “Sadly, what often ends up happening is indeed a health crisis, and then the only solution may be a long-term care facility or nursing home,” says Dixon. “These types of residences are for individuals who can’t live independently and need 24-hour care in a secure setting — completely different from a retirement residence or community.”
“I get that nobody wants to move,” says Bembinda Amorim, retirement living consultant at Chartwell Retirement Residences, “and that people still want that sense of independence. Sometimes it just takes making them aware of the advantages that exist.” She understands too, the fear that exists with both the parents who have decided to move, and with their children. “I frequently have grandchildren coming through with their grandparents to see what we have to offer,” says Amorim. “Often, it’s the [adult children] who are reluctant, because they don’t want to face that their parents are aging.” Amorim says that it usually takes a few months to really adapt from moving from a large house to a suite in a retirement residence or community, but that she then hears that they feel they have made the right decision. Once people realize that they still have their independence, they really start to enjoy the fun activities and the socializing that is offered, she says.
The bottom line? Don’t wait to find out what might be available or until something happens to you. As Ted Pidgeon says, “I had my son at age 37, so he’s going to face issues with me at a much younger age than I [was when I] had to deal with my mother. The tables will turn for him, too.”
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