The best time to address senior living alternatives is before they are needed. Often times, families have a tendency to make unsettling discoveries when visiting aging parents over the holidays. Perhaps everyone noticed that this year, Mom had a lot more trouble remembering simple things than ever before. Maybe Dad had a bruise on his arm and insisted it was nothing. When there is no immediate crisis, it’s hard to bring up the conversation. It can become “the elephant in the room” that everyone’s thinking about, but no one wants to be first to say out loud.
Even before the holidays are over, it is common for the senior living conversation to start among adult siblings. Did you notice how much trouble Mom had keeping her balance in the kitchen? Does it really seem like a good idea for Dad to be lifting those boxes in the attic by himself? As parents enter the uncertain phase of life where a crisis begins to loom, questions start to come up that can create stress and anxiety for adult children. (See also: How do we really “gnow” our parents are OK?)
Despite the urgency of the situation, it can be difficult to bring up the subject of senior living arrangements directly with parents. There is a major reason behind that resistance. Parents often fear that their kids are going to put them in a “home.” Most think it, though many do not say it out loud. It is more common for a senior to say, “I don’t want to burden my kids.” When the kids ask about the difficulties they see, parents often shrug it off, insisting that “it’s fine” or that “we’re handling it.”
During these initial stages, when parents are most likely to resist discussing senior housing options, it is important for adult children to educate themselves about the senior living alternatives that are available—and there are plenty. Some transitional options are more palatable and likely to meet with acceptance, especially from parents who are still relatively young and independent.
Three Alternatives for Senior Living in Raleigh/Durham
Aging in Place: One of the first questions that comes up: “Should I stay or should I go?” (Yes, the tongue-in-cheek reference to The Clash was intentional!) In some cases (though not all), parents can stay at home. This senior living approach often requires adapting the home, employing in-home caregivers and making fundamental adjustments to daily and weekly routines, but it is a more natural option for many than uprooting and leaving their comfort zone. Aging in place can also serve as an interim strategy for seniors who can manage on their own for the time being but will likely begin to have more significant challenges in a few years. There are a few questions that bear consideration for adult children who want to keep their parents in place:
- How close by do the children live, and are they able and available to provide support when needed?
- What kind of community support is available for the parents (e.g. what kind of relationships do they have with the neighbors, church community, etc.?)
- What specific physical challenges are they currently having around the house? (Make a list.)
- If the parents still drive, how much longer will they likely be able to do so?
- What nearby services and businesses will the parents be able to access after they can no longer drive?
- What specific physical hazards around the house can be mitigated at a manageable cost, and what will it cost to remove these alterations when it is time to sell the home?
- What changes will be needed to habits or routines (such as grocery shopping and doctor appointments)?
Intentional Communities: Numerous types of transitional communities allow aging parents to settle more gradually into a different type of lifestyle without being encumbered by physical limitations or health challenges. Intentional communities, which come in all shapes and sizes, allow seniors to share access to services and pool their resources. For example, you may hear terms like Village Housing or Co-Housing.
Intentional communities are growing in popularity, often organized to create better access to commonly needed services. Sometimes, these communities use combined purchasing power to lower costs and/or entice vendors to offer more convenient options that would not be available otherwise. In one type of senior housing arrangement, people can live in an apartment complex and take advantage of shared services, such as local transportation and professional services (e.g. doctors, financial planners, attorneys, therapists, home meal delivery services, etc.) Some communities may have an on-site case manager who is on call 24/7 for emergencies. Other communities may have something less formal, such as a loosely organized network or directory of recommended local businesses.
An intentional community can even be more physically spread out, such as within a certain ZIP code. This mode offers more privacy while still creating access to shared resources. People within a neighborhood, community or local area still live in separate homes but may enjoy shared spaces such as a community building, a clubhouse, greenway or community garden. Some folks even have an honor system set up to “lend” or “check out” shared tools or appliances. (Does every homeowner really use a chainsaw or a bread-making machine often enough to need it full-time?) We can expect to see more residential neighborhoods popping up that will offer increasingly sophisticated services for senior adults who need a bit of assistance while enjoying their independent lifestyle.
Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs): A Naturally-Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) is a community where couples stay and grow together for a long time. Over the years, a NORC develops as the neighbors age together—perhaps as they see each other’s kids grow up, go to college and eventually start families of their own. Sometimes, it’s the sense of camaraderie that keeps the community together. Other times, it’s the availability and convenience of resources. Usually, it’s a mixture of both. An aging population attracts new businesses that cater to this population, which can further attract more seniors to move in. One might find a NORC in a subdivision, apartment/condo complex or loosely clustered grouping of homes.
A NORC is an organic phenomenon, somewhat like the ethnic neighborhoods that you can find in any big city. You will not see any signs advertising a NORC, nor will you find one in a Google search. A Realtor may look at you funny if you ask! NORCs rarely organize committees or governing bodies, but living in one often results in better access to services as well as social and community activities. With a little bit of thought, you can most likely think of a NORC in your area right now.
It is well worth the investment of time to research the different senior living options that may be available when aging parents will not be able to remain in their current home for the long term. Adult children who first arm themselves with this knowledge (and a few crafty lead-ins) often find it easier to start the conversation about senior living and long-term care. By learning about the different options that may be feasible, based on the specific situation and parent needs, it is often possible to lower the parent’s resistance and address their concerns.
If you’d like to talk about what’s next for your parents and how to start the conversation with them, NAVIGATE NC is ready for your call. We help families navigate the challenges that normally come with aging and with chronic disease. Call us at 919.628.4428 or CONNECT WITH US at www.navigatenc.com.
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