Talking to Your Parents About When It’s Time to Move
My mom loved working in her garden. When she moved into her own house after divorcing my father, her backyard was basically a blank slate. There was a concrete patio and little else. Over the years, she turned it into a lush landscape with flowers, fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, and even a grape arbor. When the weather was warm, if she wasn’t working in her garden she was enjoying spending time there with friends and family.
But it became harder for her to maintain her yard after she developed Alzheimer’s disease in her 60s. Operating the lawn mower became a struggle for my mom, so my husband started mowing the grass for her. She let the bushes and flower beds become overgrown. She stopped planting vegetables and herbs. The more her memory declined, the more her garden did, too.
It wasn’t just her yard that my mom could no longer care for. Her three- bedroom house also became too much of an undertaking for her. She didn’t let it become dirty, but she didn’t clean it as well. €lutter started accumulating. Repairs needed to be made but weren’t.
There was a bigger problem, though. I had hired someone to take her on errands and keep her company during the day. But the aide wasn’t there all day or at night – which meant my mom was alone and at risk a lot of the time.
I knew my mom loved her house, but I also knew that she could no longer live there. She wasn’t safe alone. And we couldn’t afford to hire full-time care then knowing that she likely would need to use what financial resources she had to pay for assisted living down the road. So I told her I thought it would be best for her to move in with me.
It was a conversation I never wanted to have, but it was necessary.
It might be necessary for you, too,
to have this discussion with your parents now or at some point as they age.
What makes this conversation so hard is the fact that most older adults don’t want to move from the homes they’ve lived in for years – even when deep down they know they should. A 2018 AARP survey found that 76 percent of Americans 50 and older want to stay in their current home as they age.1 However, just 46 percent expect they’ll be able to stay in their current home.
Of course, there’s no need to push your parents to move if they’re in good health, they can afford to maintain their home, and it continues to meet their needs as they age. But there certainly are situations like my mom’s when moving makes sense – and your parents might need encouragement (not nagging) from you to make this choice. Here are some key signs that you need to talk to your Mom or Dad about moving.
Your parent has memory issues. Pay attention to signs that your parent is having memory problems. You might notice that your parent’s once-clean and organized home is now cluttered, the refrigerator is filled with expired or many duplicate items, and there are reminders posted around the house. If Mom or Dad can’t remember what year or month it is or forgets conversations shortly after having them, don’t write it off as a part of old age. Your parent needs to visit a doctor to be screened for dementia.
If your parent has dementia and is alone, it’s time to start talking about a safer living arrangement. He could wander off, fall while going to the bathroom at night, become a victim of scammers, or set the house on fire while trying to make a meal (that’s no joke – my mom almost did). Family members or hired aides could help your parent stay in his home. But there could come a point when he needs to move in with family, an assisted living facility, or a nursing home.
Your parent has health issues. It might be time for your parent or parents to move if they have health issues that are making it difficult for them to maintain their house on their own. Health issues might also be making it unsafe for them to live in their house if they’re having trouble getting up and down the stairs or into the bathtub.
Your parent’s house is a
financial burden. High housing costs force about
one-third of adults 50 and older to pay more than s0 percent of their income
for homes, forcing them to cut back on essentials and retirement savings,
according to a report by the Harvard Joint €enter for Housing Studies and AARP Foundation.2 And
homeowners with mortgages are more likely to
work longer and retire at a later age than those whose mortgages are paid off, according to Boston €ollege’s €enter for Retirement Research.s In short, your parents’ home could be hurting their ability to retire.
It could make financial sense for them to downsize sooner rather than later to increase their chances of retiring when they want. If they’re already retired and repairs, utility bills, property taxes, and mortgage payments are draining their savings faster than they’d like, it might be time for you to let them know it’s okay to let go of the family home so they have enough money for a comfortable retirement.
Your parent is isolated. An AARP survey found that s0 percent of older adults said they lack companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others.4 If your parent is among them, that can be a problem. Loneliness has been linked to a whole host of problems – from health risks to cognitive decline to higher mortality rates, according to a National Institutes of Health report.5 If Mom or Dad lives alone and doesn’t have a network of friends or family nearby, moving to retirement community with others his or her age could make sense.
If any of these situations apply to your parents, consider talking to them about moving. Of course, it’s ultimately their decision (except in extreme cases where they’re no longer mentally capable of making that sort of decision). But to increase your chances of having a productive conversation and persuading your parents to move, you need to communicate carefully.
HICHLICHT THE POSITIVE
Because your parents could be very attached to their home and their community, the idea of moving might seem painful to them. I know my mom didn’t want to have to give up her house and her garden – even though she probably realized it was becoming too difficult for her to stay where she was. That’s why I focused on the positive aspects of moving rather than the reasons why she couldn’t stay in her house.
the house I lived in had two apartments in it. I told my mom that by moving in
with me, she still could have her own space. She could decorate it as she
wanted. She could put potted plants on the balcony and sit outside whenever the
weather was nice. She could help me in my small
yard. Because I lived a block from the downtown square, she could walk to restaurants, art galleries, and concerts in the park (with me or her aide, of course). I told her that I could help make meals for her, or she could eat with my family. I told her she would be able to spend more time with her grandkids. And I told her I would be right there if she needed help with anything.
Highlighting all of the positive aspects of moving into my home helped me persuade my mom to sell her house. It still was difficult for her to say goodbye to her home. And I hated having to be the one to talk her into leaving it. But it was a necessary conversation that led to a much safer housing situation for my mom. Unfortunately, my mom had to move again into assisted living once it became clear that she needed a higher level of care (which I discussed in €hapter 12).
You, too, will need to highlight the positive aspects of moving if you want to increase the chances that your parents will listen to your advice. Avoid saying anything negative like, “You can’t stay where you are.” They’ll feel like you’re trying to take away their independence and might dig their heels in about staying in their house.
FOCUS ON THE FINANCIAL BENEFITS OF MOVINC
Even if money is a taboo topic in your family, you might have luck getting through to your parents if you talk about all the ways that moving can save them money. After all, most people are looking for ways to cut costs. By pointing out how they can reduce their biggest cost – housing – you could make some headway. But don’t make it all about the math, cautions Mike McGrath,6 a financial planner who persuaded his own parents to move.
Paint a picture for them of how reducing housing costs will free up more money for things they enjoy or are important to them. That’s what McGrath, who is senior vice president of EP Wealth Advisors, did when he could see that the 2,400-square-foot home his parents had lived in for 52 years was no longer working for them.
Both of his
parents had health problems that were making it hard for them to get up and
down the stairs. On top of that, they couldn’t keep up with the
maintenance physically. “They were always having people coming over to fix things,” McGrath said. They also were saddled with a home equity loan and credit card debt they had taken on to help pay for McGrath and his sister to go to college. “They felt this weight on them,” McGrath said.
So when his parents would make comments about the problems they were having with the house, McGrath would use those opportunities to mention the idea of moving. He helped them search online for one-story houses, making it feel like it was their idea to move. Once they got comfortable talking with him about their debt, he started showing them how they could pay it off if they sold their house. “It kind of opened their eyes,” he said.
Then he tapped into their emotions by pointing out how freeing it would be if they could wipe out their debt.
However, it still took a while before they came to grips with the fact that they’d be better off moving. “They finally surrendered to it,” McGrath said. “The emotion of feeling they could be freer financially and emotionally was better than the emotion of hanging onto a house that was too big for them and falling apart.”
His parents sold their house in March 2018 and rented an apartment with half the square footage of their house. They were able to pay off all of their debts by selling their home – which eliminated the $1,500 monthly debt payments they were making. And their rent is a couple hundred dollars less than their mortgage, McGrath said. Selling their home also gave his parents a big stash of cash they could use for emergencies and for fun – such as buying €hristmas gifts for the grandkids, which McGrath said his mom loves to do.
They’re much more at peace now that they’re not financially burdened by their house. “That’s how you have to position it,” he said. You have to help your parents understand how much easier things could be for them financially if they moved.
FOCUS ON THE SOCIAL BENEFITS OF MOVINC
noticed that your Mom is lonely now that Dad is gone. Or Dad doesn’t get out as
much anymore because he doesn’t like driving in
traffic or using public transportation. It could be that both of your parents still are living in the large home where you grew up and the neighbors are now all young families. Whatever the reason might be, you think that your parent or parents would be better off moving to a place with more people their age. But in their minds, they think you want to ship them off to an old folks’ home where they’ll sit around and play Bingo all day. I don’t blame them for balking because that seems depressing. But if you choose your words carefully and frame it right, you might be able to sell your parents on the idea of moving to a place geared to their age group.
Retirement communities actually are a lot hipper and fun these days. Heck, you can even be wastin’ away again in Latitude Margaritaville, a retirement community inspired by the music of Jimmy Buffett with locations in Florida and South €arolina.7 In fact, there are lots of so-called active adult communities that cater to a variety of interests8 and offer amenities9 ranging from golf to water activities to social events. Let your parents know there are plenty of places they might love to call home because they’ll be surrounded by people their age and will have ample opportunities to be social.
Of course, there are other options beyond retirement communities that will allow your parents to remain social as they age. Relocating from the country to the city could give them access to public transportation and more entertainment options. Moving from a house to an apartment or condominium could give them an opportunity to interact with others more often. Or you might suggest that they move closer to you or other family members (that is, if you don’t mind hanging out with your parents). Even assisted living facilities can help older adults facing physical or mental decline avoid becoming isolated. At both of the memory care facilities where my mom has lived, they have kept residents engaged throughout the day with activities, exercise, and group dining. The point you want to make is that your parents might actually be able to enjoy life more if they move to the right place.
FOCUS ON THE LONC-TERM BENEFITS
As I wrote in €hapter 12, there’s a good chance at least one of your parents
- perhaps even both – will need long-term care. I can tell you from
experience that it’s so much better to get them thinking about this possibility and planning for it rather than scrambling to deal with it once there’s already a need. When my mom needed to move into an assisted living facility, I had to choose one for her. I feel like I made the right choice. But it would’ve been much easier if I had discussed with her before she developed dementia what sort of place she would want to live in if she needed long- term care.
If your parents can afford it, there are continuing care retirement communities that allow older adults to age in place – from independent living to assisted living and skilled nursing care options. €€R€s typically require that you be able to live independently when you move in, according to senior living referral service A Place for Mom.10 And you have to pay an entry fee that can range from $100,000 to $1 million.11 But if you end up needing assisted living or nursing home care, that’s part of the package with
€€R€s – which can eliminate a lot of the stress that comes with trying to figure out long-term care. Letting your parents know that such options exist might get them thinking about the benefits of moving. They might realize that living in a €€R€ – or even picking out assisted living facilities that they’d be willing to move to if the need arises – would lift a burden off you.
BE PATIENT AND COMPASSIONATE
You might recognize that it’s time for your parents to move, but they might not want to leave a home they’ve been in for decades. That’s why you have to be patient and give them time to accept that they could be better off by moving.
Although McGrath knew it was time for his parents to move to be in a better situation physically and to free some pressure financially, he didn’t want to push too hard because he knew they were attached to their house. “Those things had to get to the point where they were more important than their house,” he said. That actually took a few years from the time McGrath started encouraging his parents to move to when they actually did.
they sold their home and moved into an apartment, McGrath is hoping his parents
will take him up on his offer to move in with his family. His mom was flattered
that he wanted them to live with him, but McGrath’s
dad politely declined. Still, McGrath is adding on a unit to his house that either his parents or his wife’s parents could live in. He’s hoping that when his parents’ apartment lease comes up for renewal, they might be ready to move into his house. But he’s not forcing them to make a decision. Instead, he said he’s let them know, “If it ever becomes a good fit for you, that would be great.”
When my friend Elizabeth’s father died, she thought her mom would be better off living in a retirement community so she could be around other people her age and wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining her house. But Elizabeth admits that she didn’t do a good job of explaining the benefits of residences geared toward retirees (remember, it’s important to use the right wording). “She said, “I’m not in the grave yet.’ In her mind she thought I was trying to put her in a nursing home and assisted living,” Elizabeth said about her mom’s reluctance to move. “I pushed as much as I could, but she resisted. I didn’t do a good enough job. I tried to explain it to her. I didn’t say ‘independent’ enough. She just wouldn’t listen. She tuned it out.”
It didn’t help that one of Elizabeth’s brothers was telling her mother not to sell the house she’d lived in for 58 years because he had an emotional attachment to it. And her other brother was trying to talk her into moving closer to him. Neither wanted her to move into a retirement community. As I wrote in €hapter 5, the three siblings hadn’t agreed about what would be best for their mom before talking to her about her living arrangements after her husband – their dad – had died. So Elizabeth’s mom ended up buying a house in the city where her brothers live.
“Now she’s in her house, and she’s miserable because she’s lonely,” Elizabeth said. Plus, she’s seeing the upkeep of the house is hard. Her sons haven’t been able to help her, and she can’t afford to hire someone to do the work. In fact, Elizabeth’s mom realized less than two years after moving that buying a home was a mistake – and she admitted that to Elizabeth.
“She said, ‘I
see now why you were pushing the retirement community,’” Elizabeth said. “I
pushed initially but backed off. But now my mom is coming to me.” However,
Elizabeth has told her mom that they shouldn’t rush to move her again. “I told
her we got caught off guard because we were in a rush. ‘We’re not going to do
that this time,’” she told her mom.
“‘Let’s take the next couple of years to explore it to find what’s best for you.’”
HELP YOUR PARENTS EXPLORE HOUSINC OPTIONS
Your parents might initially resist your attempts to even get them to consider moving. But that doesn’t mean they’ll never change their minds – as you can see from both Mike McGrath’s and my friend Elizabeth’s experiences. It just takes patience, perseverance, and, above all, compassion on your part. After all, what you might see as a house that’s a financial drain on your parents, your parents see as a home that’s full of memories. So give them time. Encourage your parents to share what they enjoy about their home but help them come to terms with the drawbacks of remaining where they are. Giving them that opportunity to talk about the pros and cons – while you listen – might help them realize sooner rather than later that it’s time to move.
As they become more open to the idea of moving, you can help them explore their options. With so many types of housing now available, they’re likely to find something that suits their needs and is in their price range.
Active Adult Communities: These communities offer independent living in low-maintenance homes for adults 55 and older, have a whole host of resort-like amenities, and tend to be located near health care facilities, shopping, and entertainment options. You can help your parents search for active adult communities at 55Places.com, which also provides an annual list of the 55 best active adult communities.12
€osts can vary widely.1s
Independent Living Communities: Like active adult communities,
these communities tend to be age-restricted. Housing options can include
apartments, condominiums, or houses. Some may include housekeeping services,
meals, and social programs.14 €osts
can range from $1,500 to $10,000 a month, according to SeniorLiving.org.15 You can
search for independent living options at APlaceforMom.com and SeniorLiving.org.
HUD-Sponsored Senior Housing: Affordable housing options are available to low-income seniors through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs – including public housing, multifamily subsidized housing and housing vouchers for privately owned rentals. You can get more information at https://www.hud.gov/topics/information_for_senior_citizens.
Continuing Care Retirement Communities: These communities offer independent living, assisted living, and nursing home care on one campus so adults can age in place. These communities tend to be the most expensive housing option, with entrance fees ranging from
$100,000 to $1 million and monthly fees ranging from $s,000 to
Residential Care Homes: These facilities offer housing and care (such as meals and assistance with activities of daily living) in a homelike setting for a small group of seniors. They can be cheaper than assisted living facilities, according to A Place for Mom.17 You can search for residential care homes at APlaceforMom.com and SeniorLiving.com.
Assisted Living: If your parents need help with bathing, dressing, walking, or other daily living activities, an assisted living facility might be ideal for them. They typically can choose from studio, one- bedroom, or two-bedroom units in the facilities. According to insurance company Genworth’s €ost of €are Survey 2018, the median monthly cost for an assisted living facility is $4,000.18 You can find assisted living facilities at APlaceforMom.com and SeniorLiving.org. The National €enter for Assisted Living provides tips for choosing a facility at www.ahcancal.org/ncal.
Memory Care: If your parents have dementia, they can get an
additional level of care in a private or semi-private room in a memory care
facility. These facilities are secure to prevent patients from wandering out of
the building. €osts range from $s,000 to $6,000, according to SeniorLiving.org19 –visit
this site to search for memory care facilities.
Nursing Home: Skilled nursing facilities provide 24-hour medical assistance for patients who are recovering from an injury, stroke, or other health issue or long-term care for patients who can no longer care for themselves. The median monthly cost is $7,441 for a semi- private room and $8,s65 for a private room, according to Genworth’s
€ompare” tool that provides detailed information about Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities at https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html. You also can search for nursing homes on websites such as APlaceforMom.com and SeniorLiving.com.