Long-term care communities can help seniors make the most of their golden years. Unfortunately, many older adults perceive the move to long-term care as a threat to their independence. This can lead to negative attitudes which further complicate the transition. The good news? If your aging loved one is struggling with the transition into long-term care, there are some things you can do to make the situation better.
Read on for a roundup of tips aimed at helping adult children of aging parents support them emotionally during this life change.
1. Lead with empathy, not understanding.
As a person in the prime of your life and with your autonomy intact, you haven’t experienced what your parent is going through. While saying that you understand may feel like the right thing to do, the reality is that you can’t understand and to suggest that you do may seem pat, inauthentic or dismissive. Instead, shift the focus to trying to understand as best as you can by practicing empathy. This means attempting to look at the situation from your parent’s perspective, even if it is foreign to you. And remember: understanding is about knowledge, while empathy is about feelings.
Some ways to be more empathetic? Ask questions, refrain from judging, express care and concern, avoid running ahead of the conversation, and use mirroring. The latter refers to building a connection by replicating your parent’s gestures, demeanor, and other nonverbal signals.
The takeaway? While understanding how your parents feel may not be possible, it's also not necessary. Instead, offer what seniors really need in this situation: unconditional love, support, and reassurance.
2. Keep the focus on their feelings.
As an adult child, you are probably experiencing many conflicted emotions about your parent’s move—especially if they’re leaving behind a beloved childhood home. Venting your own feelings, however, won’t help lift your parent’s spirits. Instead, it may have the opposite effect. Avoid allowing your emotions to enter the conversation and instead commit yourself to validate your aging loved one’s feelings. Simple gestures and loving affirmations go a long way.
One effective technique? Instead of highlighting the changes that may be happening, focus on the important things that will stay the same. Expressing your love; offering small tokens of your appreciation, such as flowers or a favorite food; or simply being there can be wonderfully reassuring to a sad, scared or overwhelmed senior.
3. Just be there.
Speaking of simply being there, the value of your presence throughout the process cannot be overstated. Many seniors fear that a move to long-term care will leave them isolated and alone. Show them that this doesn’t have to be the case by visiting as frequently as you can.
Remember: this isn’t about fulfilling a duty or obligation; it’s about enjoying each other’s company. While scheduled outings, activities and meals are fun, you don’t need an agenda. Something as simple as watching television together or sharing a meal in the dining hall can help seniors feel connected. Or, consider joining your parent at community events and activities. Not only can this encourage their participation; it can also help them meet and make new friends.
And don't forget that many seniors love showing off their children and grandchildren, so bring the whole family whenever possible. Plus, grandkids have the magical ability to brighten anyone’s day.
At Marjorie P. Lee, we know that the transition to long-term care isn’t easy for many seniors. We also know that our person-centered, safe and caring community offers a wonderful environment in which seniors can truly thrive. While it may take some time and effort to get your aging loved one to fully come around to the move to long-term care, offering your ongoing love is the best way to support them during this time.
One last way to help an aging loved one embrace everything that senior living has to offer? Focus on the positives, like the exciting new look and services coming soon to MPL, including Romney House’s upscale renovated apartments and catered lifestyle. To learn more about these changes and life at MPL, visit our website for a virtual tour.