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Talking to parents about independent living: How to start the conversation 

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When you were a child, your parents provided the physical and financial support you needed to thrive. During young adulthood, they served as sounding boards, offering advice and insight as you made big life decisions about relationships, your own family, and career and financial planning for the future. As time went on, these roles slowly reversed, and you began offering mental, physical and perhaps even financial support to your parents. While assisting your parents can be extremely rewarding, it often requires more time and energy than adult children have to give. If it becomes overwhelming, you and by extension your spouse and children may be contemplating whether moving your parents into an independent living community is a viable option. 

Speaking with parents about a move to an independent living community can cause unnecessary feelings of guilt. But even if they don’t recognize it at first, moving out of the family house and into a 55-plus community is often the best option for everyone. Research into the effects of social disconnection on older adults’ health shows that those who live alone have a smaller social network, are unable to frequently participate in social activities, and suffer higher obesity rates and earlier deaths. This research indicates that people in senior living communities experience a greater quality of life compared to those who live independently. 

Independent living communities provide access to the connection and community we all crave, and the practical assistance seniors need. Once the pressures of comprehensively providing for your parents’ social, physical and emotional needs are alleviated, many adult children and parents find it easier to engage in healthy and meaningful relationships with one another.   

Still, it is important to remember that your parents are grappling with downsizing a lifetime’s worth of possessions and accepting that they require daily assistance. These are emotion-filled processes. At Arcadia Place, we are dedicated to helping our residents maintain active, meaningful lives, so we created a guide to navigating the complex process of moving seniors into an independent living community so they can thrive. Follow these steps to spark and sustain the conversation. 

Start with suggestion.
Unless your parents’ current living situation poses a threat to their safety, start by discussing their goals and needs for retirement. Offer sobering reality where it’s needed, but also genuinely listen to their desires. Suggest that an independent living community would allow them to achieve their retirement goals. By starting with suggestion, you allow your parents to come to this conclusion themselves, rather than making them feel the decision was made for them. 

The key message is that an independent living community will not steal their autonomy. Instead, it will provide the assistance they need to retain their autonomy – allowing them to direct their time and energy into the people and projects about which they’re passionate. Emphasize the fact that they have worked hard and deserve to have a retirement experience that reflects their lifelong efforts. 

As time goes on, if your loved ones are not receptive to suggestions and discussion, you have every right to plainly state your concerns. Sometimes, a larger meeting with other family members, a trusted friend or spiritual adviser is beneficial. In such cases, keep the tone away from “intervention” and instead create a forum for each person to express their genuine concern for your parents’ safety should they fall down, forget to take their medication or require other unavailable assistance. 

Address their fears.
Often, the biggest challenge adult children face when moving parents to independent living is overcoming misconceptions about the quality of life residents of senior living communities experience. Many believe that senior living communities are extensions of hospitals – filled with very sick and inactive residents. In reality, studies have shown that, on average, residents of senior living communities require assistance with two or three daily living activities, but are highly engaged in the active programming their communities provide, such as nature trail walking groups and community service volunteerism. 

Moving seniors into independent living can be a slow process. Be on the lookout for good opportunities to address their misconceptions and fears. Good opportunities for discussion emerge when your parent expresses:

    • An inability to participate in activities due to a lack of transportation 
    • Disappointment over not seeing old friends as often 
    • Disconnection from the community at large

    Use these moments as non-invasive opportunities to present senior living communities as a solution. 

    Show, don’t tell.
    The best way to help your parents overcome their misconceptions about moving to an independent living community is to take tours. Let your heart-to-heart conversation about their retirement goals guide where you decide to tour. Independent senior living communities aren’t “one size fits all.” Visit a variety of communities until you find one that caters to your parents’ ability levels and interests. 

    For example, if your parents are seeking an adventurous retirement, take them on a tour of a community that will challenge them to get outside their comfort zones. One of our Sky Active Living residents went on a hot-air balloon ride through our Vibrant Life® program. 

    On your visit, eat in the dining room and attend social programming. This provides a comprehensive look into daily life at the community, and it shows your parents that moving into the community will allow them to connect with others who have similar interests. It will be easier for them to transition into the community if they form connections in advance. 

    Approach the housing tour with the same excitement you would when helping a loved one consider any new living space. Bring a tape measure, and help them plan out how they can organize their belongings in the space. Help them generate ideas for furnishing and décor. Connect with them by helping them envision how they will lay out their new space for this exciting next phase of life. 

    Helping your parents move to independent living. 
    The team at Arcadia Place wants to help you with moving your parents to independent living so they can retain their autonomy. At Arcadia Place, our residents don’t come to us to “finish out” their lives; they come to engage with life. Our Vibrant Life® program consists of seven core components that foster wellness and connectivity while also empowering our residents to make their dreams a reality and give back to the causes about which they’re passionate. Our communities are designed to provide the services our residents need, and as much structure as they want. Schedules and assistance options are tailored to each individual.

    Just getting started?

    We’re here to help.

    Just getting started?

    We’re here to help.