Should I Move My Elderly Parent Nearer to Me?
'A Little Bungalow Would Be lovely!'
A Moving Story
Some years ago, my elderly mother was quickly approaching 89 years of age. She lived almost 400 miles away and could no longer manage the stairs. Her house was badly appointed and in a dilapidated condition. There was no central heating, and I could not honestly see her surviving another winter under such harsh living conditions.
Since I was her only offspring, the responsibility for her welfare was solely mine. Money was not an issue—she could easily afford to move to a bungalow nearer to me. I knew I must be diplomatic or she would likely not even consider the idea. She had always been fiercely independent, and I worried that the shock of a move and the associated arrangements might all prove too daunting a task. Forty-six years is a long time to live in the same place, and I often wondered whether it might perhaps be better to leave well alone and let her live out her life in the environment she was used to, even though it was far from ideal.
Coming to live with my family was never a consideration as Mum would not want to give up her independence, and I had never been keen on the idea of too many generations living permanently under one roof. We wondered about building a "Granny flat" and even arranged for an architect to see if it was possible to build one next to our garage; however, we discovered it would not have been feasible with the available space.
Thoughts of care homes were out of the question; apart from restricted mobility Mum was not in need of full-time care and would not want to be restricted to a daily regime of doing things at times that fitted in with other people. Maintaining her independence was the only option wherever she wanted to live. In the end, I left the decision entirely up to her but said I would support her in whatever choice she made. We have always been able to discuss important matters together in a rational manner, so we considered all the possibilities.
We eventually agreed that she would either stay where she was and have a stair lift and additional heating installed before the winter returned, or she would move nearer to me if I found somewhere she liked enough. I would thus be able to call on a daily basis and help with shopping and housework.
Gentle persuasion and common sense strategies eventually won the day when I pointed out the many benefits a move would bring. She could see her four grandchildren almost every day and would live her twilight years in luxury into the bargain.
A widow for seven years already, she had stubbornly resisted a move since the day my father died. Her excuse was that she would not be "around" for much longer herself, therefore reasoning that the whole procedure could never be worth the bother.
Mum had a wonderful neighbour who did all her shopping and cleaning, but most of the time she was lonely with only the TV for company. With no relatives or friends left in the area, callers were infrequent. She would never venture out for fear of falling over and had no social life—so from that point of view, a move would make little difference.
My main concerns were fear for her safety and well-being because of the several falls she had incurred on the stairs and knowing that if she ever required hospitalisation or long-term care no one would be able to visit with any frequency. It would be better for her to move nearer to me now while she was still reasonably fit.
I sent her details of bungalows that met with her specifications: compact, quiet, secluded and with a small garden. There must be no steps or awkward uneven surfaces. I soon found one that she liked. 'A little bungalow would be lovely,' she eventually agreed.
Every step of the way the choices were all hers; she maintained complete control over what items would be thrown out and what would move with her. I dealt with the important phone calls and took the matter in hand when she encountered a few hurdles with the sale. The sheer volume of paperwork overwhelmed her and she was near to tears on the phone when I helped her fill in the sales particulars - she had never sold a house before so that side of things she gladly left to me.
The prospective buyer of mums existing property pulled out as the roof had seen better days but we soon found another by reducing the asking price and the day of the move finally arrived. All went according to plan in spite of a few minor hitches.
Mum settled into her new home extremely well and was able to maintain a degree of independence. She never had any regrets about moving and I was pleased that she was able to enjoy a better quality of life in her 'twilight years'. Not only has she seen her grandchildren on a regular basis but she soon had the added bonus of two great grandsons too.I feel certain that she would have responded with outright rebellion if I had laid down the law and presented her with no other option than moving. Instead, I just urged her to ponder carefully about the available options and make her own choices based on sound advice.
Seeing Your Elderly Parent Regularly Is Easier When They Live Nearby
If There Is Any Moral To This Story I Suppose It Would Be This...
Don't ever take ageing parents' choices away or rush them into anything whatever their circumstances; give them the time and breathing space to decide for themselves and they will come to the most sensible conclusion without losing their independence. Be tactful when the subject is delicate and above all be understanding and appreciative of their needs and feelings. Something that may be meaningless trivia to you may mean the whole world to them.
Nowadays community care is vastly improved here in the UK and even for elderly people who need far more care than my mother; there is adequate provision for care workers to call on a daily basis to assist with things like hot meals, medication and personal hygiene. Elderly people are thus able to maintain their independence in their own homes even longer.
Sometimes an elderly person will cling to the past and be reluctant to change their circumstances as readily as a younger person even if those changes are obviously beneficial. They will often wrap the memorabilia of bygone days around them like a security blanket and this can be an obstacle to improving the quality of their lives. You will have to constantly reassure your elderly relative before they move that there will be plenty of room in the removal van for all their precious items acquired over the years.
During the six months when my mother was selling her house she worried constantly about every little thing and in circumstances such as this you have to be constantly reassuring to elderly parents and say: "Don't worry about a thing it's all being taken care of!"
Never forget that it's often the seemingly inconsequential things that are the most important to an elderly person and they will need this constant reassurance that everything is all right. My mother's look of complete anguish as we began our six hour train journey to her new home made me regret I ever suggested the move and I was beginning to think I must have done something unforgivable when she grasped my arm tightly and said "You have remembered to bring my nice little butter knife haven't you?"
"Of course Mum," I replied with a sigh of relief. "It's right here in your sandwich box."
A Contented Great, Great, Grandma!
My mum lived to the grand old age of 98 years and four months and enjoyed over nine years in her little bungalow, so it was a happy end to a moving story. Moving your elderly parent to live nearer to you might seem a daunting and even insurmountable task for all concerned—and your parent may even think it not worth the bother at their age—but they could still have the hope of many years of quality life ahead of them!
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© 2017 Stella Kaye