My Mom’s Move to Assisted Living

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Stress often ensues within a family when one family member is in a crisis. My mother resisted the clear need to move into a Retirement Community. She was 84 years old, lived alone, had only one adult daughter and had just moved to a new city where she no longer had a network of friends to call on nor to check-in on her during illness. While she had had her name on a waiting list for a Retirement Community for ten years, when it was her turn, she did not want to make the move.

Three months later, she had a health issue which required hospitalization and skilled nursing. Because of the rapidly approaching discharge date from the Skilled Nursing Facility, we had a short two weeks to find the right Assisted Living community that could offer the the personal support she needed. This put a lot of stress on me, her go-to person, her only daughter.

Had she moved when her name came to the top of the list at the Retirement Community, she would have already been living in a place that provided all of the services she needed. Additionally, she would not have had to go through the stress of a move to a new, unfamiliar place as she recuperated in the aftermath of her illness. Before this crisis hit, my mother had already taken many of the steps that are typically recommended by geriatric professionals. She had created a Living Trust, and had downsized from her condominium in Ohio to a one-bedroom apartment in California. She’d also given away a storage room full of unused items and packed up her silver service, crystal and china.

All this and she moved 2000 miles to be closer to me, my husband and her granddaughter. She had also taken the initiative to plan for, what I now call, her “early retirement years.” She had a couple of pensions. She played bridge, volunteered at Children’s Hospital, attended continuing-ed classes at the local University and tended to her home. She traveled to Europe and made trips to visit us in California. She enjoyed the company of friends and former business colleagues.

Since her plan had been to move into the Retirement Community close to us, we had not explored other options. I had no idea what services an Assisted Living community provided, nor did I understand what services a Continuing Care Retirement Community provided. What was Independent Living? What was Skilled Nursing? And how did all the services and support that these communities provided fit into my mother’s life and my life?

Because, she’d had only minor health issues to deal with previously, my mother had not counted on needing a more supportive living situation to provide for her increasing needs. In retrospect, using that well regarded 20/20 hind-site, I can now see what we could have done. When she visited us in California, we could have toured more communities in our own county like AlmaVia and Atria Tamalpias Creek, experienced lunch or dinner and gotten to know some of the people at the communities, both the staff and the residents. After all they are our neighbors. I could also have called to get information from neighboring counties to see what communities were there, how much they cost and had additional information sent to me.

I know now, that there is a recommended conversation to be had between aging parents and their adult children. In the Senior Industry it is referred to as the “70/40” conversation. That means that when the parent is 70 years old and the adult child is 40 years old, they have a heart-to-heart conversation about what the parent is going to do to plan for their later years. In that conversation, mom and I could have talked about her financial resources, her wants for her more active retirement years, the trips, social involvement and the volunteerism I wrote about earlier. And, too, what her thoughts were for her care and life in the later years, that 80+ range.

One friend, currently a staff member at an Assisted Living Community in San Francisco, recommended making goal boards by taking a piece of poster board and a slew of magazines, cutting out pictures that fit ones image of life and pasting them on the poster board. This process helps to create tangible images to move toward.

Another option is to create two simple lists. With two blank pieces of paper in front of you, write the heading “Early Retirement” on one and on the other “Later Retirement”. Under each category, write these sub-headings: Emotional Support, Social Engagement, Physical Health, Safety and lastly, Financial and Legal Planning. Then take some time to consider each category, jotting down your thoughts. At the end of the exercise, you are likely to feel relieved to see some of your thoughts in black and white and be more ready to thoughtfully consider your own needs as you age.

Now that I’m 60, I know that in my “Early Retirement Years”, I want to write, garden, hike, travel, and spend time with my grandchildren and husband and adult kids. I know that at age 70, I’ll put our names on the waiting list at our local Retirement Community, The Redwoods. I know that we can build out our downstairs to be an apartment if we want someone to live on our property to help us with household chores and maintenance and/or do some shopping for us. I also know that in my later years, I can enjoy quite activities, I can write, read and enjoy the view of our garden or even a few potted plants. We can play a game of Canasta or two.

Because of my mother’s experience, I now know what the retirement communities around the San Francisco Bay Area have to offer and how much they cost. I know the life-style they offer, the quality of their meals, their food plans and how they can take care of me and/or my husband. When my husband and I have that 70/40 conversation with our adult kids, I already have a plan in place to share with them. I am not going to leave it to them to have to decide how to care for my daily needs. And I will not have to get stressed out by not knowing what my options are when I have a critical need come up in my later years. If I can do this, so can you.

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