It may be a conversation you have been thinking about but keep putting off. Maybe you have tried but just couldn’t find a good segue or ice-breaker to get a dialogue started. Besides, it’s a topic that a lot of people just aren’t comfortable discussing.
No, I’m not talking about that conversation. I’m referring to starting a discussion with your parents about plans for their living arrangements as they age.
To age in place or to move?
Research by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has found that upward of 90 percent of seniors want to age in place, that is, stay in their own homes as they get older. If your parents are among that majority, you may have a difficult conversation in your future if you believe they would be better-off in the long-term in a more “senior-friendly” home.
Often, seniors are resistant to talking about alternatives to aging in place, such as a move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also called a life plan community) or other senior living community. After all, to think about a future in a place other than the home they have lived in for decades means confronting one’s mortality, and some seniors just aren’t ready to face that reality.
Considering your parents’ senior living options
Despite the potentially uncomfortable nature of such conversations with your mom and dad, it is a discussion that needs to take place so that you have a mutual understanding of preferences and concerns; and there’s no time like the present. Here’s why: The best time for seniors to consider a move to a CCRC or other retirement community is well-before a health crisis forces the issue. And that is a good way to frame the conversation: It’s about being prepared for the unknowns of the future…for their sake and yours.
A few ideas on how to start a discussion with your aging parents about their senior living options…
1. Cash-out and move to a more senior-friendly home
After living in a house for so long, your parents have likely built up a good amount of equity. Ask if they have ever considered selling the house and using the equity to buy a home that would be a better fit for them as they age (on one level, accessible shower, etc.).
One of the many benefits of a CCRC or other senior living community is that nearly every detail of the campus is designed with seniors in mind. The property and its buildings are custom-made to accommodate those with physical challenges (canes, walkers, wheelchairs, etc.), if and when the need for assistance arises. The same can’t be said for the two-story Colonel home your parents currently live in.
Of course, home equity can also be tapped without selling the home, perhaps through a reverse mortgage or line of credit. This approach should be considered but ultimately may not be practical or desirable, depending on a variety of factors.
2. Downsizing while you are still independent and able-bodied
Your parents may have more house than they really need. Ask if your parents might be more comfortable if they had a smaller home to clean and maintain in the long-term. But keep in mind: The prospect of downsizing can feel overwhelming to seniors who have lived in the same house for so long. If you are willing, offer to help them with the process of cleaning out the attic/basement/closets.
For those living independently in a CCRC or other senior living community, exterior maintenance typically is included in the monthly fee…no more spending hours on end cutting the grass, cleaning the gutters, and raking leaves.
3. Moving closer to family
Those grandkids may just be your ace in the hole if you are hoping your parents will consider a move to a housing option that will better-accommodate their needs as they age. Many seniors would love to live near the grandbabies, and spending more time with family can be a huge selling point in encouraging your parents to consider a more “aging-friendly” home in a community that is closer to you. Such a move would likely give you peace-of-mind as well, knowing you are nearby in case a health issue arises as your parents age.
While CCRCs and other retirement communities are designed for seniors, make no mistake about it: There are lots of things that grandchildren will love about visiting their grandparents’ new home. Nature trails, swimming pools, a selection of desserts on the menu in the community’s dining room, and possibly even a playground…senior living communities know that wherever Grandmas and Grandpas live, the grandkids (and great-grandkids!) will follow, and as a result, more communities are incorporating child-friendly amenities on the premises.
4. Help when you need it
A reality of aging is that most people will eventually need some level of assistance, ranging from minor assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) to full-time long-term care. For those seniors who age in place in their own home, this can become a huge expense if they hire this assistance, and can be a tremendous burden–emotionally and financially–if family members are required to become caregivers. One of the biggest selling points of a CCRC (compared to a traditional retirement community) is the fact that various levels of care are available on-site to residents–a benefit that is typically built into the CCRC contract.
Most people who are retirement age have experienced first-hand the stress that comes with caring for an aging loved one as they dealt with their own parents’ decline. A gentle reminder of how difficult it was for your parents to care for that elderly family member may be the only motivating factor that they need in order to consider a move to a CCRC or another home in a community that is better-equipped for aging residents.
Switching to Plan B
So, you tried these conversation-starters and were met with resistance or were even shutdown outright; that’s okay. This is a process. Consider sitting down with experts on the issues that surround aging such as your parents’ doctor, attorney, or even financial planner. Hearing about the potential challenges of aging in place from an impartial third-party may be easier on your mom and dad, and may make them more willing to earnestly consider their future housing options.