There comes a time in our lives when roles reverse. When children look at their parents with "parental" concern. Perhaps they've noticed a change in their health or their demeanor. Or maybe, the adult child has begun to worry about the miles that separate them from their loved ones.
Whatever the reason, it may be time to have "the talk" — a frank conversation that assesses a loved senior's present and future and broaches the topic of a continuing care retirement community.
Clare Oaks, a CCRC in Bartlett, uses an acronym, T.A.L.K.S., to guide family members through this process. It stands for:
• Think about family dynamics
• Assess the situation
• Look at the circumstances
• Keep your options open
• Schedule a visit to a senior community
These pointers are a good guideline, but the process itself plays out differently for each family.
For Ed Vodicka, 54, the process began three years ago with his parents, Ed, 79, and Charlotte, 78. Vodicka and his sister both live more than 1,000 miles from Illinois. The distance from Illinois became concerning to him when his father started having health issues.
"The initial talk started three years ago when my dad's health started changing," says Vodicka. "I kept bringing up the subject; he refused to talk about it. There was no discussion. He would say that everything was fine and there was no reason to talk about any changes. He'd tell me he loved where they were. It was all very typical."
But then his father lost his balance, fell and broke his wrist and cut his hand. That was the catalyst for moving ahead.
"My dad realized that it's not as easy as it once was," says Vodicka. "His illness just wore him down. Additionally, it was wearing my mother out."
On his father's doctor's recommendation, Vodicka researched Lexington Square of Elmhurst for his parents. After they all had a chance to visit, Ed and Mary decided to move in for a three-month trial basis.
Talk with a twist
Former Ohioan JoAnn Neumann, 69, had a talk with her mother Margaret Riley, 93, that had a twist. Not only would Margaret leave her home in Cincinnati, but JoAnn and her husband Fred would go along with her.
"Fred and I had always entertained the idea of moving to Chicago," says Neumann. "Our children and grandchildren live here, as well as four of my siblings. I began to lay the groundwork with Mom. I talked about how great it would be for her to have four of her other children to call upon should I not be available to provide assistance."
Margaret dug in her heels and showed no interest in the move.
"I kept focusing on the family reasons to move — all those grandchildren and great grandchildren that she seldom got to see," says Neumann. "Once I put our house on the market, she knew my intentions and came along."
In a further twist, the Neumanns had decided that not only was a senior community in Illinois right for mom, but it was right for them.
JoAnn Neumann found Clare Oaks.
"Mom's big draw was that they had daily Mass and she would not have to leave the building to get there," says Neumann. "My big draw was the social activities. I also emphasized that I would request an apartment on the same floor as she and be even closer than I was in Cincinnati."
Patti Tuttle, a residency counselor at Clare Oaks, says timing the talk is key.
"Find a time that is relaxed and non-threatening," she says. "Over a family meal is often a great opportunity. The tone should be empathetic and caring, honest and sincere. Make certain that mom and dad are involved as much as possible in the process and don't dictate."
Setting is also important, says Mary Ann Pappone, sales counselor at Lexington Square of Elmhurst.
"The best setting, if possible, is the senior's own home," says Pappone. "You're going to be talking about something that will change their life, and they need to feel comfortable and safe."
Pappone also recommends the talk to be one-on-one, beginning with the child or relative with whom the senior has the closest relationship.
Whomever that person is, "he or she should take the lead but not in a demanding or dictatorial way," says Pappone.
If the move is being initiated because of a change in the
"For instance, say: 'Do you realize that you haven't been taking your medication?' and then get their reaction," Pappone advises. "Engaging them in the process is really important."
Finances are also something that must be discussed — comparing the upkeep of a home and the added expense of service people or caregivers to the cost of all-inclusive living in a senior community.
"Let your parents know that you want to help find the right fit for them financially," says Tuttle. "Communities run the gamut in pricing and it is important for them to find a community that they are financially comfortable in."
Both Tuttle and Pappone advise getting recommendations for possible communities from trusted sources and then visiting a few communities to contrast and compare.
"Make sure to take notes after each visit so that you can discuss after the tours," says Tuttle. "This is important because if you visit several communities you want to make certain you have the right information on each."
The trial basis at Lexington Square was the perfect option for the Vodickas. At the end of the three months, they decided to make the community their home.
"Everybody is so glad," says Vodicka. "I was fortunate that I found such a great solution without having had any real plan in place ahead of time."
JoAnn Neumann reports that "the talk" turned into a positive change for her mother, as well as her husband and herself.
"We are all in love with the place," she says. "It was the smartest move we ever made for so many reasons. It is also wonderful being around our children and now I have the opportunity to get to know my siblings as well."
Vodicka and Neumann both have advice for those contemplating "the talk" and a life-changing transition.
"Know that the decision has to come from the people making the move," Vodicka says. "Don't give up. Be patient, and keep searching."
Neumann says to broach the subject by asking your loved one what their plan is for when the time comes they will need assistance with their care.
"Ask if they have ever heard of a CCRC," she says. "Perhaps this is the time for a tour to just look. Unfortunately, most people wait until a health emergency forces them to make this choice then they are in no shape to enjoy all that a CCRC has to offer."
For Vodicka the process gave him food for thought.