If your parents are miserable in their senior community, you’ll do anything you can to make them feel better. But have you considered the possibility that the facility itself isn’t a good fit?
Here, Patricia Maisano, founder and chief innovation officer of IKOR International, an advocacy and life management organization for seniors and individuals with disabilities, outlines the signs of seniors who are dissatisfied with their current community, and ways to determine whether a move is in order.
Taking Time to Transition
As with any major change, there will be an adjustment period when your parents move into a senior community. In fact, it’s rare that people are abundantly happy the moment they move in, says Maisano. That’s why she recommends giving your parents time to adjust.
“For the first few days or weeks, I tell the family to call and see their loved one a little less,” she says. “This forces them to get to know other people.”
That doesn’t mean you should abandon your loved ones in senior living, of course—just that it’s wise to give them the space they need to get acclimated and socialize.
Reading the Signs
But what happens when your parents don’t make the adjustment? While some people will come right out and tell you they’re unhappy in senior living, others need you to dig deeper to uncover the truth.
Maisano recommends paying particular attention if your parents are taking their meals in their room instead of the dining room, not getting involved in activities, and becoming more and more confined to their room in general.
“You need to look at the unspoken communication,” she says. “When their world is closing in on them, that’s a sign that things are not going well.”
In addition, keep an eye on the interactions between staff members and residents.
“It’s disrespectful and demeaning to be called ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey,’” asserts Maisano. “The staff should know the residents’ names and be able to interact in a relaxed manner.”
If your parent starts acting like a small child with the staff, showing fear or discomfort through body language, that’s another sign there’s a real problem, she adds.
Don’t hesitate to raise the issue with your parents if you see any signs of unhappiness. They might feel stuck, and they need to know their options aren’t limited, says Maisano. Let them know you can fix it and help them make a change.
When Your Parents Are the Problem
Of course, there are some people who are never satisfied, no matter what. They are determined to be unhappy, and will likely make everyone around them unhappy as well.
If you’re unsure whether this is the case with your parents, Maisano suggests observing staff-resident interactions to get a clear picture of what’s going on in the senior community. Is the staff friendly in general, but terse with your parents?
“If your parents are making unreasonable demands all the time, that’s how it will show itself,” she says. “The staff will be short and will want to limit exposure to them.”
If that’s the case, you may need to make a senior living switch. But, Maisano warns, facilities do communicate with each other about resident behavior, which can make it difficult to find another placement.
So before you make a move, try to first get help for your parents—otherwise, you’ll just end up with another bad placement. Maisano recommends seeking a psychological consultation and getting a social worker or even an independent nurse advocate involved to help your parents see how their demands are unreasonable and their treatment of others is inappropriate.
When Not to Move
Though there are several good reasons to move your parents out of a senior living facility, self-interest is not one of them.
“I have seen kids move their parents out of a facility and into an apartment because it’s cheaper,” says Maisano. “They’re not thinking about their family members’ needs.”
For those worried about their inheritance dwindling because of the cost of senior living, she offers a dose of perspective:
“If your parents have money, that’s what they’ve worked for—to have the life they want. As their child, you can make sure they have the best life possible.”
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