Portrait of an old woman with her adult daughter.

An Honest Conversation: Exploring Retirement Living with a Loved One

Earlier this year, we sat down with a panel of five adult children who had recently helped to move their aging parent into a retirement community. We wanted their thoughts on everything from what prompted their conversation about senior living with their parent to how they felt on move-in day. Our hope is to provide valuable insight to others in the process of helping an aging loved one navigate the next phase of their life, and to remind you that you’re not alone.

A quick disclaimer: out of the five people interviewed, only one has a parent currently living in a Chartwell community. Their names have been changed to respect their privacy. Here’s what they had to say.

Participants:

Beth, 48, Father Aged 72
Andrew, 47, Mother Aged 75
Farah, 32, Mother Aged 78
Lydia, 64, Father Aged 91
Alexandra, 55, Father Aged 85

Why did your parent choose retirement living? Did you participate in the decision?

Beth: “My father needed to live somewhere safe, where someone was always around if he needed help. He didn’t like feeling alone. That, plus the upkeep of his house was becoming difficult.”

Farah: “It was tough bringing up the topic with mom that the time was right to consider a move. She wasn’t receptive to the process in the beginning. She lived on her own and she wasn’t very active anymore, so it was a team effort with my brothers to help her realize she needed a change for her own benefit.”

Lydia: “Safety was the number one reason for my dad moving. He had a bad fall down the stairs, and I had to say to him, “Dad, are we going to wait for another fall, or are we going to look into a retirement home together?” It was an emotional realization for him. I had to be clear about my fear of him living alone and the risk of another fall—we had to find somewhere accessible and good for his mobility.”

What were the important considerations for your parent when making the decision to move?

Beth: “My father felt lonely living on his own, but he still had a lot of friends in his area, so the location of the retirement home was important so he could still visit with them and vice versa.”

Andrew: “Location was the biggest factor for us, finding mom something nearby, and also finding a home that had the level of care and service she needed. We also had to find a retirement home that could accommodate her pet.”

What approach did you take to help your parent find the right retirement community?

Lydia: “When I realized I couldn’t move my dad in with me, I set up visits with three retirement homes and found one very home-like. It was important to me that the community exuded a sense of friendless and warmth, because I knew the decision was hard for my dad.”

Alexandra: “There was a lot of footwork involved in finding the right home. I had gut reactions when walking into different homes. I’d ask myself, is the carpeting nice? Are there fresh flowers? Does the home look well-maintained? Does it smell nice?”

Beth: “I can honestly say I visited almost every retirement home in Mississauga, took the time to speak with staff and residents, and narrowed down the number of homes to show dad based on those interactions and how I felt when I first walked through the door.”

Andrew: “Before making our decision, mom and I visited different retirement communities and sampled a lunch or dinner, and got to know some of the other residents in the process. She also tried out a few of the activities to get a feel for the place.”

Consider the benefits of exploring a retirement lifestyle before a decline in health or independence.

How did you know you’d found the best home for your parent?

Farah: “My mom already had friends at a particular retirement community, so she chose that one. My brothers and I did check it out first, though; we popped in now and then without an appointment to see what the feel was, what was going on, how everyone reacted when they weren’t prepared for a guest. We felt confident after those visits.”

Lydia: “We knew we found the right home when we walked in and saw a group of residents chatting and laughing, and another group playing games. It seemed like a social place and we liked seeing people in the main common area.”

How did you feel on the day you moved your parent into their new home?

Beth: “It was hard, because my dad didn’t want to leave the family home. I thought—am I moving him into somewhere he’s going to hate every day? I really questioned whether I made the right decision, but today he’s happy, he’s experiencing things he’s never experienced before, and I can’t thank staff enough for taking good care of my dad.”

Farah: “It was a lot easier to say goodbye after we’d moved her in than we thought, because she already had so many friends there. She wasn’t as nervous.”

Alexandra: “Move-in day was hard for me. I was worried leaving my dad, it was heartbreaking not knowing if he’d adjust well. I knew he’d rather live with me or by himself, but he couldn’t take care of such a large home anymore, he was going to hurt himself.”

Lydia: “My father always thought he’d move in with one of his kids, but our homes aren’t conducive to his condition, and many of us are still working and have young children, so it wasn’t going to happen. I’m glad I stuck to my instincts on encouraging him to move in—he just needed reassurance that it’s not a reflection on how much he’s loved, it’s what he needs to be safe.”

How did the transition to living in a retirement home go for your parent?

Andrew: “Mom is taking advantage of the activities offered and provided transportation to appointments and the mall. We still have some things to work out to make life easier for her, but we and the staff are trying to address those as much as we can.”

Beth: “Pretty well, I thought it would’ve been harder actually. I was surprised to see my dad participating in activities. Considering he didn’t really want to move in, but figured he had to, it was reassuring to see him fitting in. He can still feel reluctant to participate sometimes, but I see his confidence growing as he realizes he can now do things he wasn’t able to do while living by himself.”

Farah: “My brothers and I continue to visit my mom once a week. Schedules can be tough, but I think that has helped her transition. Luckily, she has residents at the home who also speak Arabic, so that makes her more comfortable. Hearing her talk about the activities and social aspect of the home does give us peace of mind, though.”

Lydia: “The transition is better than expected. My dad doesn’t read, write or speak English well, yet everyone is helping him and he’s established a routine. Hearing other residents address him by name so quickly has given us a lot of comfort. I remind him, ‘Dad, nothing has really changed when you think about it—your children still visit you daily, your friends come to visit. Sure, you don’t get that big plate of pasta anymore because you’re diabetic, but you can’t have it anyway! All that has changed is the four walls around you, and you’re safe here.’”

Alexandra: “Honestly, the first six months were very hard. Dad didn’t want to be there, and there was nothing my siblings and I could really do. None of us had bedrooms on our main floors, he would trip…We went every day to visit him. He’s doing better now, thankfully. He still has his freedom and independence, and likes to go out to the movies or for dinner.”

What advice do you have for other adult children trying to help an aging loved one in need of more support?

Andrew: “Having the support of my siblings was important to me, and ensuring we were all on the same page before we approached my mom. I think we could have benefitted from talking to others about our experiences with my mom, to hear their thoughts and what they did to help their parents.”

Farah: “My brothers and I should have relied on our network of friends and co-workers more. It would have been helpful to have someone we could relate to and who could give us advice.”

Beth: “I never conveyed to anyone the worry I was feeling at the time. I wish in hindsight I had sought out reassurance from staff at the home, or friends.”

If you’re researching retirement living options for an aging loved one, or wondering how to broach the conversation with them, download our Supporting Your Aging Parent Guide today for more information and advice.