Aging is a tricky subject for everyone – especially when the topic of leaving home or needing help arises. There are a variety of reasons why an older adult may need an alternative living arrangement. These can include medical illness, physical disability, or financial implications. It can also be caregiver-related. Whatever the reason, the goal is to keep the older adult’s best interests at heart.
How do you know when it’s time for help?
Most people want to provide the best outcome and quality of life for their aging loved ones. Unfortunately, there can come a time when it is no longer safe for older adults to live alone. Some of these signs are obvious, but others may take longer to identify. Here are a few indications to watch out for:
- Mobility difficulties (1 in 4 older adults will have a fall each year)
- Mental health or memory concerns (depression is difficult to detect in older adults, whereas forgetfulness is more common)
- Financial concerns (ex. unpaid bills, stacks of unopened mail)
- Driving concerns (older adults can outlive their ability to drive safely)
- Changes in appearance (weight changes, appearing unkempt, odor, or other signs that they aren’t practicing good hygiene)
- Disconnecting (are they withdrawing from loved ones? Hoarding?)
- Medication concerns (are they taking their medication as prescribed, or do some appear to be missing or not taken at all?)
If you notice any of these warning signs, it may be time to discuss your concerns with a trained professional. Some people choose to make an appointment with a neurologist for a cognitive assessment. The best person to evaluate the older adult will be their primary care provider. This could be a physician or nurse practitioner. If your loved one does not have a primary care provider, then an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner is a good option.
When the time comes to schedule a cognitive assessment, it can be difficult to know where to start. It is important to begin with someone who knows the aging adult’s history, such as their primary care provider. Remember, it can be tough to bring up the topic of leaving home, but it’s a crucial conversation to have with your loved ones.
In addition, healthcare professionals are no strangers to these difficult conversations. Knowing how to tackle them is key to achieving the best possible outcome. The primary care provider knows there are many factors that can affect the discussion. These include:
- The environment (it may be best to converse wherever the patient is most comfortable)
- Who is present (patients may be particular about which family members are in the room)
- Available resources (will a social worker or other potential resources be needed?)
- Situation complexity (there is no one-size-fits-all solution)
It’s also crucial to allow the older adult to have a say, rather than force them into something they don’t agree with or aren’t ready for. Therefore, try easing into the conversation. The older adult is likely already struggling with losing their independence. Giving them some autonomy will help deliver the best results.
When it is time for the discussion and assessment, it can be helpful to reframe the concept. Demonstrate how leaving home can actually help preserve their independence, instead of taking it away. Another factor to be aware of is the fact that older adults often fear being a burden on their loved ones. Remind your loved one that accepting help will decrease everyone’s stress levels.
Once the assessment is complete, it’s appropriate to listen to your loved one and validate their concerns. If the conversation was open and engaging, you might determine that everyone shared
the same thoughts. However, your loved one may or may not agree that it is time to leave home at this point. And it’s okay if they are still hesitant. The positive side is there are other options available, and it’s important to address them all.
Research your options
Making the best decision for your loved one can be challenging, so it’s critical to educate yourself on all available options. Before considering the specific factors, here are the most common living situations for older adults:
- Stay in their current home or downsize (with home health or a move-in family member)
- Move to an assisted living community
- Move to a long-term care facility
- Move in with a family member
The goal is to make a group decision that everyone aligns with. If your loved one wants to remain in their own home, is it even a possibility? Discuss safety and financial considerations, as well as home health versus a live-in family member. If there is no one who can move in with the older adult, can they move into someone else’s home? This can be a completely doable solution for some, and unrealistic for others.
Therefore, an alternative is looking into an assisted living or long-term care facility. This is the decision older adults often struggle the most with, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience.
Since many older adults view assisted living or long term care as “giving up,” what if you changed this outlook? Many of these communities have so much to offer such as fostering independence, social activities, a sense of community, and more. Your loved one may enjoy having their own space where they won’t have to cook, clean, or maintain the lawn. While they may still have a say in their appointments, what if someone else managed their medications? These points give your loved one more time to do what they enjoy with less to stress over.
Remember to give your loved one some control in this decision by allowing them to voice their preferences. Tour the communities together so they can share their opinion. After all, this is their life—they should be allowed to make the most of it.
Growing older is scary for many, as it’s met with so much uncertainty. Whether your loved one is suffering from a debilitating physical illness, cognitive decline, or loss of function, any of these can lead to feelings of helplessness, guilt, and even depression. They have been the caregiver for their entire lives, so shifting to needing one can be hard to accept. Remember to provide them with love, kindness, and reassurance that growing older is not about losing themselves—it’s about preserving their independence for as long as possible so they can have the best quality of life.
To discuss your family’s plan for the future with a community leader, contact the community nearest you.
Krystle Maynard is a registered nurse with many specialties. She is the creator of Innovative RN solutions, which focuses on healthcare content writing. Krystle lives with her husband, children, and loves to travel (mostly to beaches) and concerts. If you would like to connect, you can reach her on LinkedIn.