By Sylvana Rinehart, Certified Senior Concierge Care Advisor
As a team member of Concierge Care Advisors, I am periodically invited to share stories with our readers. I like to share what is prevalent on my mind in dealing with my senior clients who have become an integral part of my life, as they share their deepest desires and fears with me. As I look back at some of the intense moments about the possibilities of seniors moving out of the status quo, I realize this often involves difficult decision for all participants. Whether it requires the need to transition or relocate a beloved spouse, friend, parent or parents – one always goes through an emotional and soul-searching process. As this plays itself out, I often observe two key obstacles that seem challenging to overcome:
- The simple resistance to change
- The fear that our physical frailties will limit our ability to lead an interesting life
The teachings of Buddha can be applied here when he said; “Everything is continuously changing. Life is like a river flowing on and on, ever changing. Sometimes it flows slowly and sometimes swiftly. It is smooth and gentle in some places, but later on, snags and rocks pop up out of nowhere. As soon as we think we are safe, something unexpected happens.” Things do change and sometimes suddenly.
In America, we tend to be planners. Throughout our lives we purchase insurance policies, plan our careers, home purchase, families, and the next steps in our lives. While we all wish we were better prepared for the developments that happen later in life, the fact is that for whatever reasons, many times we are not. As advisors we hear from the caregiver spouse or adult child about the guilt in having to transition their loved one in a retirement community or an adult family home. Pre-planning and having the hard conversations ahead of time with seniors can reduce the anxiety for all involved, and also give them choices, rather than having them made for them.
A large number of retirement communities have been built to help our seniors lead a more independent and fulfilled life, but many seniors of the generation we currently serve have little affinity for these homes. Frequently, seniors cannot get beyond the perception that the retirement homes are for older, frail, and less mobile individuals. It mainly applies to others and is not for them. What I have observed over the years is that those who prolong a move until a crisis forces them to move have a harder time adapting to their new environment. By contrast, those who moved on their own volition have a much better outlook on their new chapter in life.
One of the factors I have observed is the visual shock effect at the sight of mobility devices, which then becomes a barrier to acceptance of a retirement home or adult family home. Upon reflection, several decades ago one would rarely see walkers in retirement homes – now they are ubiquitous. They allow seniors to prolong their lives by moving around, exercising safely and being healthier and more engaged. Same thing with wheel chairs; some have motors, others can tilt back to keep someone from getting up and falling. I look at these technological advances as ingenious aides for our seniors’ independence and wellbeing. However, I have many clients who cannot get beyond the walkers and wheel chairs conjuring frailty and old age. I try to encourage my clients to look past the barriers and get to know the individual.
An additional factor in trying to overcome these challenges is that we do reach a point where we have a strong tendency to want to take things one day at a time. As advisors we are asking seniors to plan for a change and plan for the unexpected. Yes, one might be doing fine currently at home with a cane or a walker, and driving despite doctors’ orders, and frequently getting medications mixed up. Often the caregiver spouse or adult child sees the inevitable progression and wants his or her loved one to move into a more secure and engaging environment. At the same time the senior who cannot see beyond the walkers and wheel chairs is often thinking that the end is near, “my life is over, and I might as well stay where I am because this is what I know.” What this usually leads to is a crisis, like a fall, followed by a sudden loss of control. I empathize with the position of both; the caregiver and the senior, and at any point at which I enter into this situation, it becomes my challenge to help them deal with what is and what is not the best course of action to ensure the senior has the best care.