You want to respect your loved one’s wishes and her independence. But what do you do if it’s simply unsafe for her to continue living at home, yet she refuses to move? How can you do what’s best for her without running roughshod over her?
Here, Patricia Maisano, founder and chief innovation officer of IKOR International, an advocacy and life management organization for seniors and individuals with disabilities, offers insight into making tough decisions when a loved one’s health and safety are at stake.
Dealing with a Difficult Situation
Maisano shares the story of a 75-year-old, unmarried woman—we’ll call her Grace—who lived alone in the house in which she grew up. The three-story house had no bathroom or bedroom on the first floor, which posed a problem because of Grace’s poor vision. Consequently, she had been sleeping on the first-floor sofa for five years. Though her nieces and nephews gave her a porta potty to use on the first floor, she was still having a lot of accidents.
Clearly, the situation was reaching a breaking point: “She could not continue to live in that house,” affirms Maisano.
But the nieces and nephews didn’t want to make their aunt angry. Grace was the matriarch, and “she was ruling the family with an iron fist,” says Maisano.
So they hired IKOR to help them navigate the situation. They worried that moving might “kill” her, but Maisano pointed out that Grace could suffer tragedy right there in her own house by falling down the stairs.
“The right thing is to keep her safe, and to give her input,” Maisano explained to them.
Taking Grace’s Needs into Account
Thus began the search for the right place for Grace. Her bedroom at home overlooked a brick wall and featured sounds of the city, so Maisano looked for a senior living community with the same features—a place that would feel like home.
What’s more, they decided to bring Grace’s bedroom furniture as well as the sofa she’d been sleeping on for five years. That way, Grace could be the one to make the choice to leave the tattered sofa and sleep in her bed when she was ready.
“You have to agree to let her sleep on the sofa if that’s what she wants to do,” Maisano told the community, explaining that it was important for Grace to retain some decision-making power.
Making the Move
Once all the plans were in place, IKOR let Grace know what was happening.
“An hour before the moving company came, we told her, ‘You can’t live here anymore, but we’ve found a place for you. What furniture would you like to take with you?’” recounts Maisano.
Though Grace wasn’t happy about the move, she complied and told IKOR exactly what she wanted to take.
Of course, it would have been ideal for the family to have had these conversations with Grace beforehand. But in difficult situations like this one, that’s not always realistic.
Handling Family Dynamics
Interestingly, the nieces and nephews were not on the scene while all this was happening. IKOR arranged for them to show up an hour after the movers came. That way, they wouldn’t have to be the object of their aunt’s wrath, and could instead defer to the experts who made the decision for Grace’s well-being.
In addition, Maisano instructed the family to leave town for the first few days, and not even be available to Grace by phone. During that time, IKOR kept an eye on her to make sure she was being properly cared for. When the family returned they kept trying to call Grace’s room, but she was never there. After phoning the nurses’ station to find her, they learned she was always out playing Bingo or watching movies.
In short, Grace was doing just fine—not that she would admit it to her family. “She’ll say she’s miserable, so you’ll have to accept that role for now,” warned Maisano.
The bottom line? It’s not easy to be the “bad guy” at the receiving end of an angry tirade or guilt trip. But Grace’s family loved her too much to let her stay in a home that was unsafe. With the help of registered nurse advocates, they helped their aunt move to a senior living community where she would be healthy and safe—and keep her dignity intact.
WEIGH IN: How do you walk the line between respecting your loved one’s wishes and keeping her safe?