The age at which your parents are considered seniors is between 62 and 65. The average age of retirement is 63. The population of Americans beyond the senior threshold is nearly 50 million and is expected to double in the next forty years. While health consciousness, medical advancements, and technology are allowing seniors to live at home for longer than ever before, it is still very likely that you will have to make decisions about retirement communities with or for your aging parents.
It is common and normal to feel as much anxiety about planning beyond your parents’ retirement years as it is about encountering those years. It can be difficult to feel comfortable talking with the seniors in our lives about retirement communities, assisted living facilities, or senior housing, but it’s a necessary and important step as we become caretakers for our aging family members. Their residence, their health, and their general well-being will gradually or too rapidly become the responsibility of the adults around them, including their adult children. It will become necessary to make important decisions, and you will wish to make those decisions with as much of their input as possible. Following these four steps that will make it easier to discuss this important transition, and will yield results that keep the wishes and needs of the seniors in your life paramount.
Don’t wait until declining health or capacity makes it necessary to consider retirement communities for your aging family members. Begin talking about it early, and letting them define their wishes and needs early. This allows the emphasis of the conversation to be on them, rather than on relief for those who would otherwise be responsible for their care (you). Starting the conversation early, while they are most aware of their wishes and before they can begin to feel like a burden, will make them more comfortable with this vital planning and will help them to see it as organized and responsible planning rather than grim urgency necessitated by their advancing age.
Expect your aging family members to offer constructive and valid insights into what will serve them best during this kind of transition, no matter how far in advance it is. Let them guide the conversation and be sure that they understand that they are being heard and respected. Don’t approach the conversation with an agenda, at least not one that you’re unwilling to deviate from. They will likely have anxieties and misconceptions about retirement communities, senior placement, or assisted living. They may be unprepared for this transition and your openness to helping them learn more about the options is likely to be reassuring and appreciated.
Among the most difficult elements of arranging long-term care for aging parents is being sure that they will be able to live comfortably on their retirement or residual income. Educate yourself and them about the costs of retirement communities, assisted living, or retirement centers. Calculate their resources carefully and be clear about how they wish to assign them. Much of their regular expenses during early retirement will be managed by the retirement communities you consider, so help them to take that into consideration. Be sure you both understand the many options available, and that your priorities are their priorities.
Meeting staff and touring facilities are among the most reassuring steps in preparing your aging parents for this transition. Learning more about and demystifying the environment at retirement facilities or assisted living communities will put your aging parents at ease and help you both better determine which kinds of retirement communities will serve their needs best. Touring facilities together also places the emphasis not on a transition that your senior family member or members will be making alone, but on a life change for their whole family.
A conversation about retirement communities and long-term care for your aging parents or the seniors in your life will and should take some time; let it. Start the conversation early, listen and be sure they know they’re heard. Give close attention to their needs and resources, both financial and otherwise, and make sure you both appreciate this a family transition.