Perhaps your older friend/parent/parents have started needing a bit more support. Perhaps you’re nearby so you can pop in from time to time. What happens when it’s clear that ‘popping in’ is no longer enough?
I’m relaying the decision part of our ‘moving story’, not because it will be particularly helpful to you in itself, as every situation is different, but because we did learn an important lesson that was to help us from then on in.
About 9-10 years ago, Marj’s son and daughter had a sense of something not being quite right. Marj started finding herself flat out on the pavement with an unnerving frequency, not knowing how she had fallen and needing passers by to help stand up. Even though Marj didn’t break anything, it was very worrying. She also, ever so gradually started doing things out of character. For her daughter, the clincher was the discovery of furry corned beef in the fridge, something that Marj would never have tolerated before.
Marj had lived in the Potteries all her life and was surrounded by helpful neighbours and her sister who lived in Stoke too, but it was clear that they could not look after her in the long term. But Marj was set against moving out of her house, full stop.
Her daughter researched retirement communities near her but Marj would neither consider nor visit them. A second alternative was suggested, where Marj sold up and moved into her son’s house while an extension was built adjacent to give her her own space.
Marj was determined to manage and resolved to stay put while her worried kids gently tried various conversations over a year or so. In the end it took a new approach. Instead of focusing on the reasons why Marj couldn’t stay where she was, they shifted focus to the real choices available to her. They helped Marj list her ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ for each option and let her choose.
Marj chose to move in with her son. The clinchers were threefold; more of an input into her surroundings and what she did with her time, living with people she already knew (and not being ‘forced’ to socialise with those she didn’t) and being able to see more of her grandkids. The whole process from raising the subject to moving house took about 18 months. We can all of course relate to why she’d pick the option that gave her the most control over her new life.
This was a big learning point for us. And a little embarrassing that we didn’t realise before. Why, just because we’re older, would we ourselves make such a massive change without seeing a benefit and feeling like we had a choice or any control? I’d be pretty hacked off too.
Ever since, to acknowledge Marj’s independence, we offer her a choice, even if it’s only for a small or routine thing. For example, Marj may prefer to sit on the sofa all day, but we know she will be more comfortable if she uses the loo at lunchtime. Rather than asking if she would like to go to the loo (answer yes, or more likely no), we ask whether she’d like to go to the loo before or after lunch. That way, she always has control, even if not going to the loo is what she might prefer during the time we are free to take her.
It is heartening to hear about increasing ‘self directed care’ in some residential homes. Most of us would resist the idea of having to get up, bathe, eat and participate in group activities at exactly the same time as everyone else just because it’s convenient for the staff. How much better would it be to choose to lie in a bit one day or picnic on the lawn from time to time. As we age we don’t suddenly transform into a homogeneous group of ‘oldies’ suddenly happy to be lumped together and slotted into someone else’s routine.
Of course, being able to accommodate an individual’s choice in a residential home means addressing the costs and margins of care provision, which is whole other topic. But even small self directed adjustments to the care timetable would improve resident and staff wellbeing.
For all the big and small decisions in your elder’s life, try offering the realistic options open to them, and dignify them with the final say. That way we recognise and respect our elders as the individuals they are.
Postscript on the move:
Despite her decision, Marj was deeply unhappy for many years about moving away from her home in Stoke. We know because she’d say she wanted to go home most days, however much we tried to help her feel settled. Sad to say, it is only as Marj has become more dependant on us that she has relaxed into her new home. As far as we can tell, we and others feel Marj is now content. We’re grateful that Marj bravely made the decision to move when she did.