20130226-2 – Independent and Assisted Living

This will be the first of three posts regarding living and lifestyle choices we all need to consider as we age. Caution: it may sound a little formal, rather than a casual conversation like I would prefer …
As part of this caution you’ll notice that I’ve slipped into “strategic planner” mode for this series, that’s my instinctive MO (modus operandi or method of operation for you non-Latin speakers), in other words, my natural way of doing things. What that means is that I list and analyze options and I take into account things such as the likelihood that something may happen. However, I tend to over-think and over-plan things and not spend enough time actually executing my plan; so as you read this try to keep in mind the philosophy, “Do as I say, not as I do”. You might avoid the over-planning trap that way!
I subscribe to the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”, so when there’s a significant possibility that something might happen I try to take that into account. Yes, I try to plan for it! What a novel concept! This series is all about planning starting with what triggered the need, considering the desired outcomes, and figuring out where you’re starting from. These posts are about those pieces of a planning process for retirement or senior living, starting with “what triggered all this intensive thought?”
Being in “the sandwich” and having ongoing conversations with aging parents about where they want to live and the lifestyle they want to have opened up our eyes to a lot of options that we need to investigate as we plan our own retirement. My wife’s Mom and Dad decided to spend their winters in Florida and summers in Michigan near their grandchildren. During the winter they desperately missed their family, but not enough to stay in the “cold country”.
As they entered their eighties they talked more frequently about living in a place like Freedom Village in Holland Michigan, where they could be independent but have access to assistance as the need developed. The advantage of independent living facilities is that you quite often end up at the top of the waiting list for associated assisted living facilities when the need arises. Otherwise you find yourself on a much longer waiting list for assisted living. Another huge advantage is the opportunity to begin building new relationships with residents and staff that will carry you through the more difficult transitions to come.
Mom and Dad talked, but never took the leap, opting to stick with their condos and continue putting off the decision despite the fact that their health suggested assistance with living was very likely going to be a necessity. They delayed the decision so long that they reached the point where they could no longer treat it rationally. In fact, we retrieved them from Florida at the end of the 2008-09 winter season because Dad couldn’t be trusted to safely make the long drive back home. They had already pushed their living arrangement beyond the limit, but we couldn’t convince them otherwise.
With both Dad and Mom we were extremely fortunate that assisted living openings were available when they were needed during this last year, just not in what we thought would be their preferred facility. When Dad moved in, the staff could not believe that Mom had continued to care for him to that point given her own condition. Their assessment was that he should have been in assisted living for a year or more before we actually moved him in. And Mom, having spent every day since last Christmas in the hospital, rehab, and now assisted living finally realized that she should have moved much sooner as well.
The emotional attachment to “home” can carry people much farther than they really should go, and motivate them to continue taking care of themselves when they would be much safer with outside help. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not. Emotions often drive the putting off of decisions about living arrangements when rational thinking should prevail. But how can you tell your parents that the time has come to choose and insist that the choice be made, and tell them they are not being wise to persist in putting things off? There were several occasions when we were told we were being pushy, and were being asked why we were being so nasty about this; we definitely hit their hot buttons.
We really needed to have faith that we were doing the right thing, and to keep reminding ourselves that we were being rational and caring, and that concern for their own safety and well-being was paramount. We wish we had found a way to help them see that the time they were first discussing independent and assisted living options was the right time to make and execute the decision. The best idea is to be sure we don’t make the same mistake, and risk not having affordable accommodations when we need them.
So now it’s time to start thinking about our own lifestyle choices …

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