How family dynamics play a role into making senior living decisions

Originally posted in The Oklahoman.

Making decisions about senior living is a family affair. Photo provided.

When Virginia Olds decided to move into a continuing care senior community she approached it with the same scientific approach she had deployed in her career as a social worker in the healthcare system. Research, research, lots of questions and more research.

Once she decided to make the move to Concordia Life Care Community in Oklahoma City, she knew that she had done due diligence.

“In my case, my family has always seen me as an independent person. It was my decision,” she said.

When she approached her family about the idea, they were supportive.

Olds was ready but it wasn’t easy. Packing up fifty years of family memories impacted the entire family.

“It took us a long time to pack. That’s when I realized, I was not only packing up my own things, but my son was saying goodbye to his childhood,” she recalled. “It was a time of really mixed feelings.”

While the transition was well supported by Olds’ family, that’s not the case for all seniors. For many of Olds’ neighbors their relatives had to make arrangements after a medical emergency or other life event.

“Where you have a number of children, it gets more complicated because everybody has an opinion. This is very stressful to a person whose life is so significantly going to change,” Olds said.

Family dynamics

Concordia residents out for a stroll through the neighborhood. Photo provided.
Concordia residents out for a stroll through the neighborhood. Photo provided.

Although an overwhelming majority of older Americans would prefer to stay in their home, that choice is not without challenges. If you plan to rely on a family caregiver to provide for your needs you should discuss this with them now, while still independent and able.

“Family dynamics play a very big role in the senior living decision,” said Brad Breeding, president of myLifeSite, a consulting service helping people chose continuing care retirement communities.

“First, even if the parents decide completely autonomously from the children’s input, it’s still important for the adult children or other close family members to understand the reasons for the decision; why this is a decision that makes sense and, ultimately, how it impacts the children.”

Not having this discussion with family may result in frustration.

“Far too many families avoid having these important discussions and end up scrambling to figure things out later, often under duress as the result of a health crisis,” Breeding said.

Adult children often fear having the discussion because they are either afraid they will offend their parents or want to deny that aging is a reality.

“It’s actually quite responsible to prompt this conversation. It’s a necessary step in the planning process. But even older adults often deny that things can change in the future so they too avoid the discussion,” he said.

Nikki Buckelew, a senior living expert and realtor, said in her experience things can turn sour when either party feels like they were “told” rather than being an active part of the decision.

“​Another pitfall made by older adults is allowing their adult children to direct them to a place they – the adult children – prefer rather than choosing a community ​best suited to their own tastes and preferences,” she said.

Let’s not forget the adult children. In some cases, parents are ready to make the move but the kids have other plans. Moreover, kids and parents may have different priorities when shopping for senior living options.

“Middle-aged adults tend to be ‘wowed’ by amenities and the newness of luxury style communities,” Buckelew said. “They are all about the building and the look and/or costs. People who will be living there are usually happier when having chosen a place that suits their personality, lifestyle, and where others with similar values and lifestyles also live.”

One constant remains: the decision will impact the entire family.

The implications

By avoiding the discussion families may encounter everything from resentment to costly missteps, said Julie Davis, marketing director at Concordia.

“Postponing decisions about your future care needs often defers the task to adult children or other family members who, operating in crisis-management mode, may not have the resources, flexible schedule, or emotional capacity to take on this responsibility,” she explained.

Family caregiving impacts the entire family. There are approximately 65 million unpaid caregivers in the United States, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Of these 83 percent contribute financially to the care recipient. Moreover, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 48 percent report losing jobs, changing work hours, or missing career opportunities.

Another issue that often emerges are finances and understanding insurance and benefits.

Rhonda Nowlin, Certified Senior Advisor CLTC with Concordia, said long-term care insurance can protect a lifetime of hard-earned savings from being depleted by the exorbitant costs of extended, long-term care services.

“It can also help you avoid liquidating your assets and relying on Medicaid for support,” she said. “Yet, long-term care insurance is only part of a much broader plan that addresses not only the cost of care but also access to care.”

 “Understanding what your options are and what it takes to align those with your goals is important. Planning early makes the transition as manageable and life-affirming as possible,” Nowlin added.

Also make sure you take full advantage of all benefits and policies that you may have bought to apply them to your senior living goals.

Residents at Concordia are gathering for an evening of fun. Photo provided.
Residents at Concordia are gathering for an evening of fun. Photo provided.

Having the talk

After Paul Lekawski’s father passed away, his mother remained in their home that they had lived in since 1959.

“While the house seemed fine, there were occasional problems that seemed to turn into emergencies,” Lekawski said.

After consulting with his siblings, Lekawski approached his mother. They needed a long-term plan.

They took a few tours including Concordia.

“My mother was somewhat quick to approve of the idea and I picked up a bit of an attitude that she agreed to appease her children.  Her initial comments to relatives and friends were ‘this is where my children want me to go,’” Lekawski recalled.

“Within a couple of weeks, that attitude changed to ‘this is the best Idea I ever had!’  Emphasis on the ‘I,’” he added.

Since his mother moved to Concordia, Lekawski noticed that she is more vibrant and happier. 

When the time comes, Lekawski said people should take a look at the current environment such as the home and the neighborhood, proximity to healthcare, security and associated cost of living. He also advised to be honest about the burden of home maintenance and the ability to manage. 

He also recommended to visit retirement communities and research online reviews, the Better Business Bureau, etc. 

Starting this conversation is necessary, but can be tough and sometimes uncomfortable.

“Be respectful. We know this can be emotional, but if your parent – or your child – brings it up, there are good reasons for it. Hear them out,” Davis said.

“Simply frame this conversation as being proactive and learning what the options are. Consider everything from living in your home to moving to a retirement community—and the potential implications of each choice,” Davis said.

Most importantly avoid fixing, blaming, worrying, denying, rushing or telling.

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