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If you’re an adult child of aging parents, you may dread talking about downsizing, secretly hoping things will somehow work out if you leave the topic alone. But’s that a risky approach to take, given that an estimated 70 percent of people aged 65 will require some form of long-term care during their lives. It’s a far wiser course of action to discuss downsizing while they are still healthy–otherwise, you may be forced into making a rash, sudden decision when mom or dad has a health crisis, like breaking their hip or developing dementia.
The good news is that talking about downsizing doesn’t have to involve tension, anxiety and family friction, not if you address it the right way, that is.
For starters, you may want to change the way you think about “having the conversation.” Instead of viewing it as one marathon session, look at it as a long-term event made up of many micro-conversations. Do aim for a family meeting, but initially, keep the conversations casual and look out for openings that allow you to slip in a few words about downsizing. For instance, you could broach the subject if you notice your parents struggling while walking up stairs or preparing dinner. The time might also be ripe for a small discussion if one of them expresses concern about their living situation. Don’t pester your parents, just keep gently bringing the topic up when the timing feels right.
Always keep in mind the delicate nature of these conversations. Your parents may see downsizing as a loss of independence or control. They may feel scared or angry about changing circumstances and heartsick about leaving a home filled with memories of backyard barbecues, holiday celebrations, and family dinners. They may also worry that they will lose touch with friends and neighbors.
Of course, moving into a senior living community can help ease the pain of leaving a much-loved home and neighborhood, but now may not be the time to highlight the social benefits (like the chance to live in a community of peers, to partake in recreational activities and healthy dining that allow for easy socializing). First, allow time to listen to your parents’ concerns, validate their feelings and give them emotional space.
Your approach needs to empathetic and compassionate. Be sensitive and respectful–never argue, wheedle, cajole or push mom and dad. Speak to your parents with an edge in your voice or saying hurtful words may damage your relationship and you want to avoid doing that at all costs.
Even if you suddenly realize your parents’ yard is looking unkempt or there are stacks of unopened letters on the kitchen table, avoid forcing conversations. Although you need to be alert and responsive to changing circumstances, a conversation fueled by panic will only aggravate the situation. If you do believe your parents’ health and well-being are compromised by their living arrangement and they are resistant to acting, consider asking a respected family friend or relative or other neutral third parties to speak to them about the consequences of inaction. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s view to shake the illusion that they are coping alright.
While we can’t promise that talking about the sensitive topic of downsizing will exactly be relaxing, it doesn’t have to be a tense scenario if you get a little support and alter your approach.
*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living, May, 2019