Editor’s note: This is the seventh in the Next Avenue “When Should You…” series on aging milestones for parents or loved ones. With our partners at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, we will address common caregiving concerns.
Are you wondering if it might be time for your mother to move out of the home she has lived in since your childhood?
In addition to the increased potential for isolation, the work involved in cleaning and upkeep may be having a negative effect on her mental and physical health.
There are two crucial factors you should look for to determine if it’s time for mom to give up the family home, says Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s Director of Quality Improvement Alberta Chokshi, a licensed independent social worker.
The first question you should ask yourself is: How safe is mom's home for her?
Safety doesn’t only mean how many smoke detectors, grab bars, shower seats and mega-watt bulbs have been installed. Or how many rugs have been taken up. Or even that your mother has (and actually wears) a medical alert necklace or bracelet.
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It also means: How easy it is for her to get around in the home? Are there lots of steps to go up and down? Are the hallways and doorways too narrow to accommodate your mother’s walker? Is the only bathroom in the house on the second floor and does it have a tub, rather than a shower?
“If the answer to most of those questions is yes, your mother is probably spending a lot of her energy just getting around in her home,” Chokshi says. And, because that could make her tired or careless, it also means your mother is at increased risk for a fall or other accident.
The other thing you and your mother need to consider is her health. Some medical conditions are minor, requiring only a pill or two a day, and don’t have much impact on a parent’s ability to function in the house. Others, such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or hypertension have a huge impact on an older adult’s ability to function and carry out daily activities. In addition, many of these conditions also can put your parent at risk for a fall.
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And falls are to be avoided at all costs. A serious fall can force a move on your mother, rather than allowing her to make the decision on her own.
Starting the Conversation
If you aren’t sure when or how to initiate the “it’s-time-to-move” conversation or are not comfortable with the role reversal that can come with initiating it, Chokshi suggests consulting with a social worker, geriatric care manager or family counselor. All have the training and experience needed to assist you in what can be an emotional and frustrating undertaking.
A friend who has gone through a move with her parent can also offer useful advice garnered from her experience. A local or online caregiver support group can be a good place to get advice from people who’ve been there, done that, too. Local social service agencies and Area Agencies on Aging can help you connect with a support group in your area.
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If your mother has a strong connection to her place of worship, you should consider speaking with someone there about how to broach the subject of a move.
When you do begin the conversation, make sure your mother is involved every step of the way and is an active participant. Encourage her to share her concerns, wants, needs and preferences.
The more say she has in when, where and how she moves, the better everything — the move, the adjustment to her new living space and the maintenance of your relationship — will go.
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This article is reprinted with permission. © 2014 Benjamin Rose Institute in Aging. All Rights Reserved.