Housing Options and Helping Parents Move (NYT 1/19/11)
This short article offers advice on helping parents move. The advice certainly applies to helping any family member move (not just parents).
"The question for adult caregivers is how to help a parent get past...anxiety and into a new home. As it turns out, the worst thing caregivers can do is to deny that the move is a big deal. ... Acknowledging difficult sentiments is almost always useful. Minimizing emotion tends to backfire."
A Cleveland Clinic psychologist "urges that adult children avoid take-charge mode whenever possible, despite the natural urge to get things done. Often parents already feel that their decision-making rights are dwindling, and aggressive handling of their affairs can increase their anxiety."
This article refers to two additional resources:
* "Housing Options for Older Adults," a booklet published by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. The options include living in a home, rental a home, living in a group setting, and living in a nursing home. See:http://n4a.org/pdf/HousingOptions_Booklet.pdf
* a NYT article from late 2010 that discussed hiring a "senior move manager" to help parents move. See:http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2010 ... mpossible/
Robinhttp://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2011 ... on-moving/
Caring and Coping: The New Old Age
More on Moving
By Karen Stabiner
The New York Times
January 19, 2011, 3:42 PM
A middle-aged son and his mother â she in her late 80s, eager for life but tired of driving and cooking and feeling isolated â find a sun-drenched studio unit in a beautiful, service-laden independent- and assisted-living facility. Theyâre both thrilled and relieved, until a couple of weeks before move-in day, at which point the mother suddenly balks.
She doesnât want to move. She so adamantly doesnât want to move that she stays in her old apartment for a month after the new lease is signed, visiting her eventual home for the occasional meal, taking her time.
When she finally does move in, she embraces the new place with all of her initial enthusiasm, leaving her son to wonder: What was that hesitation all about?
According to Scott Bea, a staff psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, it was an utterly normal response to change. âThat sort of hesitation is very common,â he said in an e-mail. âIt represents what psychologists refer to as the âapproach-avoidance conflict.â As human beings approach a situation that generates anxiety, the anxiety increases the closer they get to the actual event. From a distance, it sounds like a good idea. When the event arrives, folks have all sorts of ways of avoiding.â
Anyone who has ever canceled a dental appointment at the last moment will recognize the phenomenon. In Mr. Beaâs experience, âas older adults face the enactment of a significant change in their style of living, they commonly balk at the 11th hour.â
The question for adult caregivers is how to help a parent get past that anxiety and into a new home. As it turns out, the worst thing caregivers can do is to deny that the move is a big deal.
âAcknowledging that parents might have second thoughts in the last moments before a change might help them recognize this very human trait and help them move through it rather than avoiding it,â said Mr. Bea. âAcknowledging difficult sentiments is almost always useful. Minimizing emotion tends to backfire.â
What to do? Mr. Bea encourages caregivers to keep possessions that mean a lot to their parents, even if it requires hanging on to more than will fit in the new place and arranging for temporary storage until a parent has time to get acclimated.
Stuff matters, as it turns out, but only the really important stuff. Mr. Bea suggests sorting things âbased on need, emotional attachment and sentimental value.â Offering to hold on to some items for a moving parent may ease the feeling that the move is erasing the past. And caregivers should be prepared to defer to a parentâs preferences in deciding what matters, in terms of both the space itself and decisions about what to put in it. The candy dish thatâs yard-sale material in one family, or in one generation, might be a powerful memento in another.
Mr. Bea also urges that adult children avoid take-charge mode whenever possible, despite the natural urge to get things done. Often parents already feel that their decision-making rights are dwindling, and aggressive handling of their affairs can increase their anxiety.
âThey may already be experiencing a great loss of control at this point in their life,â he said. âIn the end, the caretaking child might have the final say in critical decisions. In noncritical matters, let the parent have a significant voice.â Adult children may have to take the lead in financial judgments, insurance matters and living arrangements, for example, but parents should always âbe allowed to make decisions that are consistent with their current intellectual and emotional capacities.â
That includes figuring out what daily life is going to be like once theyâve made the move. Mr. Bea advises adult children to encourage their parentsâ involvement from the start â and simultaneously to brace for the process to take a while. âEncourage new behaviors with low expectations,â he said. âLofty expectations can lead to great frustration, if the parents are resistant. Require a lot, expect very little.â
For readers who are just beginning the process of moving a parent and have the time to devise a thoughtful approach, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging offers a comprehensive booklet on easing the transition (PDF).