Sunday, January 18, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

One of the hardest things I do is help people make the decision to leave home and move to a nursing home, assisted living or retirement community. "Home" is obviously so much more than the roof over our heads. For some, home is where families were raised, with all the good and bad times that families go through. For others, home is where a husband or wife died, and the surviving spouse fears they will lose memories if they leave the house. Home is where all our stuff is; where we know which floor boards creak and how long the water has to run before it gets hot.

I've wondered before if this decision will be easier for people like me, who lived in a dorm, then went on to live in multiple apartments and living situations while in college and graduate school; but I guess deep down I don't really think it will be. I work with people who were career military and lived in barracks as well as all over the world, and they all struggle with the idea of leaving wherever home is now.

I do think that familiarity will make most changes a little easier. I and many of my colleagues are familiar with retirement and assisted living, so we may have a little easier time choosing that if and when the time comes. I was only half joking when I told my college roommate the next move was to assisted living!

I think the best thing we can do when we are helping an older adult with this decision is to try and help with the fear. Offer to take them to visit communities before they need to move. Most communities offer free lunch, and many will even let the prospective resident stay in a guest room for a few days to see what it's like. Encourage them to talk about the fears, and understand that they will experience grief at giving up their home and all that it represents. And always recognize that the decision is hard. It usually means a loss of independence or control, which is never easy. If possible, start the conversation before the move is even needed. It's a difficult conversation to start, but it will make the decision a bit easier when the time comes.

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