Supporting Aging Parents Through the Moving Process
Last year my parents moved to an over 55 community and I’m often asked why and how our family made the choice to take that step. The answer is pretty easy – we didn’t have a choice at all!
My parents had actually moved from their home of 20+ years to what they thought would be their “retire up” condo right before the economic crash in 2007. They didn’t have a ton of retirement savings, but thought they could buy a condo that would make them feel like they had retired with a little bit of luxury and earn some money on what they put away in savings from the sale. Unfortunately, like many other families, my parents were wiped clean when the market bottomed out, and it wasn’t long until their new home started to feel like a burden. Like others their age, retirement took on a new definition overnight.
Our family tip-toed around the elephant in the room when it came to my parents’ place. Not only was it becoming a problem for them financially but also physically. While they had three floors of living space, they lived primarily on the first floor 99% of the time because the stairs were too hard. Even though my Dad was past retirement age, he was still working, but the economy had affected his small business and money was tight. Though we didn’t discuss it much, they were scared. However, despite the issues, the thought of orchestrating another move was beyond their realm of reality and anytime I, my sister, or my husband would bring up the possibility of moving out, my parents’ eyes would just glass over.
In March of last year, the real estate market rebounded and I jumped on it. I convinced my parents they had to at least put their place on the market and see what they could get. They agreed, reluctantly, and only with the promise that we would help them. Somewhere in between my work conference calls and picking my daughter up at daycare, I personally staged their home and used so many Mr. Clean Magic Erasers that my fingernails bleached.
My parents got a good cash offer and the search for a new home ensued. They had a long list of non-negotiables that made finding a new place next to impossible. They needed a two-car garage (big enough to ALSO fit my father’s motorcycle). They needed a new construction because my mother had such severe environmental allergies that moving anywhere with old rugs, musty basements or mildewing kitchens was not medically possible. It needed to be relatively close to Boston so that my father could have a bearable commute. A first floor master bedroom was a must and, lastly, it needed to at least cut their mortgage in half. While we had never discussed a 55+ community specifically, that’s where we ended up. They found a development a little bit further away than anyone would have liked, but met all of their criteria. The next step was getting approved for a loan.
For the next several weeks, I literally sat beside my parents through every step of the financial/legal process of buying their new home. While I juggled a full-time job and caring for my 4 year old daughter, I would figure out ways to get to their house on lunch breaks and weekends to help make phone calls, locate documents, make copies, write letters, begin packing, and organize Salvation Army donations. My husband would jump in when decisions were needed on locking in rates or calculating financials. I used my Bright Horizons employee benefit of having access to a financial advisor when I had questions on the loan approval process.
We all sat on pins and needles as we awaited the loan approval. Afraid of the possibility of them being denied, I discretely began visiting local apartment complexes to scout out possibilities for my parents in the case their purchase fell through. Next to a death in the family, divorce, or losing a job – waiting on the loan approval ranked up there in level of emotional stress. In the end, it worked out and we moved my parents successfully to their new home, but there were several things I learned in the process.
Things to Know When Helping Aging Parents Move
1. Legal assistance. In hindsight, I would have consulted with an attorney and identified what decision-making authority could have been turned over to me and my husband. While it would have been an enormous burden, it would have been easier than what we actually did.
2. You are the support system. We were lucky. My parents, for the most part, are actually in decent health and don’t qualify for any specific mental or medical health assistance. However, there really aren’t any resources to help able mind and bodied adults through a process like this. Just because your parents are getting older and less capable, doesn’t mean that the rest of society acknowledges that. During this transition time, much of the support system will be you.
3. Patience, patience, patience. You will have to use more patience than you ever thought possible. Dealing with the terrible twos is NOTHING compared to supporting your parents through a major life transition that is symbolic of them aging.
4. Financial planning. If your parents don’t have a financial planner – get them one. If they do have one (awesome), go to a meeting with them to understand their finances. Your parents, very likely, will be unwilling to share with you if they are struggling financially, but when you hit this stage their financial issues become yours too. This will be sensitive for them, so you’ll have to tread softly and kindly.
5. Take care of yourself. I didn’t do this. I felt like I “couldn’t” go to yoga or make time with friends because I was so busy balancing the rest of it. That was my biggest mistake. You’re only of good use to your parents if you are in an emotionally and physically good place.
For us, dealing with the thought of an over 55 community was the least of my parents’ concerns. Now that they are there, they don’t even really notice or think about that they live in a place that has an age requirement.
Now, the next transition – to assisted living – THAT will be a doozey. Thankfully, we have some time to enjoy before we embark on that adventure!
Editor’s Note: Caring for aging parents is a challenge for many members of the sandwich generation. When that parent has Alzheimer’s disease, the challenge is even more heightened. Bright Horizons and BrightStar Care recently hosted a webinar “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s” to share strategies and tips to help you support your loved one and your family throughout the caregiving process.