Soul Searching… Your First Step to Finding the Best Senior Housing

My friend Kelli called the other day seeking my advice. “I’m worried about mom and dad,” she said. “They are convinced they can stay in their house, but I’m seeing them really slow down and struggle with the upkeep. Where do I begin? How do I start a conversation with them? What can I do to convince them we need to start looking at other lifestyle options?”

This seems to be an all too familiar situation amongst the baby boomer generation theses days.

My first suggestion to Kelli was to start what I call the “internal research” The soul searching, if you will. Unless you’re managing a crisis, the best way to create action is with the Risk and Value judgments that each individual has about aging and lifestyle options. Though it may be tricky to get started, this can lead to wonderfully rich conversations that are a gift to the entire family.

Some families naturally engage in this type of dialog. But without prompting, most do not. Many adult children assume they know how their parents feel, when in reality, after deeper discussions, they find it’s quite the opposite.

In my book, Senior Housing 101, I discuss in depth 16 Risks & Values questions that help couples and families get to the core issues and feelings that will guide them to the right solution. To get you started, try these top 4 questions that most frequently concern older adults. (Or you can simply give them a copy of this article to read, asking for their personal views on the questions after they’ve thought about it.)

#1 —> Are you concerned about being a burden to your children, family or friends?

A majority of older adults will tell me they absolutely do NOT want to be a burden to anyone. This again is one of those delicate areas where timing is key. Some are advance planners and position themselves before serious issues start to occur, others wait until there has been an episode or two, then begin to get the picture.

When my father-in-law had open heart surgery, my husband had to take vacation time, fly out to Pennsylvania and oversee the care, transition home and be sure they could handle the follow up rehab and doctor visits before returning. This happened several times with various emergencies… yet they remained obstinate and determined to stay in their home where there was no local family support to respond to these emergencies. It was a burden. And while we tried to present our concerns diplomatically and still honor their wishes and independence, it made both my husband and me angry that they didn’t “get it”.

It is best when everyone concerned—parents, children, relatives that may have to oversee care—are all participating so all perspectives and feelings are put on the table and heard. Like other risk/value factors, there usually comes a point that a person feels strong enough about NOT being a burden, that they are willing to make a change.

#2 —> How important is it to make your own choices?

It’s human nature to want to feel in control of our lives. Keep in mind however, there are many different ways of maintaining control and different tools to use. Life can come at you fast. If it is important for your parents to make their own choices and have a sense of staying in control of their life, then advance planning is mandatory. The person who chooses to put their head in the sand, take no action, refuse to discuss the reality of their aging and THINKS they are staying in control, will likely wake up one day all alone, in a strange place, unable to care for themselves or have a say in where they are living. But the advance planner who understands their options and positions themselves prior to a crisis will have the most control and opportunity to make their own choices.

#3 —> Would you prefer to make a lifestyle transition by yourself or do it as a couple while you are able?

Many couples will discuss the likelihood that something will happen to one of them before the other. Do they want to make a move together? That way if something happens to one of them, the other isn’t left with the house and the “stuff”, trying to manage the transition alone. Or do they prefer to stay where they are and simply cross that bridge when/if they come to it? It is best when the couple and the rest of the family can agree on a course of action

#4 —> How attached are you to your “stuff”?

A person’s “stuff” can paralyze them as they begin to contemplate a life transition. The longer your parents have been in their home, the older they are, the more stressful the very idea of cleaning up, throwing out, down-sizing, reorganizing and moving can be. I’ve worked with people so unattached to their stuff they make a lifestyle change by getting all new furniture. I’ve also worked with people so convinced they have to hang on to their stuff that they refuse to take action… even when evidence that a change is necessary is staring them in the face.

Fear of change is a powerful force, and telling someone to start weeding things out sooner rather than later is like preaching to an overweight person the virtues of a healthy diet and exercise. For some people, bringing in a professional organizer or someone that is unemotionally attached to the “stuff” can make it easier. As part of your research, you must help your parents come to grips with how much power their “stuff” has over them and how they plan to deal with it.

These questions can begin a trickle of communication that leads to a powerful stream of meaningful conversations.


About The Author

This article was submitted by Randalynn Kaye, author of Senior Housing 101 and founder of Elder-Transitions. For more information or to contact Randalynn, visit

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  • LAAAC is managed by St. Barnabas Senior Services; Funded, in part, by Archstone Foundation.
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