QUESTION: My father’s 86 and lives alone. The closest sibling lives a 2-hour drive away from him. He’s getting more forgetful and much more stubborn. We think he needs to be in an assisted living home. How do we approach this with him?
"YOUR NEST" RESPONDS: Barry Jacobs, PsyD, a psychologist who has counseled many people in the situation of moving elderly parents, knows how difficult it can be when a parent in need of care refuses to leave his or her home. While there are no magic strategies or tricks for persuading an elder to move, he suggests that adult children ask their parent to indulge them by visiting an assisted living facility.
Most of us are more likely to change our position and lifestyle if such a transformation is of our own choosing, writes Jacobs in his book The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers (Guilford Press, 2006). Placed under duress to change, we typically resist, regardless of the soundness of the other person’s arguments.
And when a parent continually refuses to entertain the idea of moving? The child needs to back off for the time being, advises Jacobs. But don’t give up, he adds, seek other openings to raise the issue again.
What I tell adult children is that, unfortunately, sometimes things have to get worse to get better, he says. It may take the parent falling or being spooked by burglars or having the electricity turned off because he forgot to pay the bills for the realization to dawn that the parent can no longer safely reside in the home. Even then, it may take the strong urgings of health care providers and extended family members for the parent to accept the inevitable.
If the parent begins to show signs of warming up to the topic, the child needs to emphasize the parent’s right of self-determination but also urge action, adds Jacobs. He suggests structuring the conversation in the following way: Tell your parent: ˜I can’t make decisions about how you should run your life. It would make me feel better, though, if we could go together to look at some possible assisted living facilities so that you’re better informed about what choices are available. Would you be willing to humor me in that way?’