Adult Children Helping Aging Parents to Start to Downsize
Adult Children Helping Their Aging Parents to Start to Downsize
Have you had to help your aging parents downsize from their family home to something smaller and more manageable?
With the American population aging at an unprecedented rate, more adult children than ever are having to help their aging parents start to downsize.
In 1995, my brothers and I were faced with a dilemma: Dad was dying from cancer, Mom had moderately-advanced Alzheimer's disease, and they were no longer able to manage living independently in their single-family home.
Everything came to a head when Mom wandered away from their home and was found by the local sheriff's deputy. The deputy called me to say that they had admitted Mom to the local hospital for her own safety and that we had just 24 hours to get her admitted to a nursing home or they would do it for us.
That phone call began a six-week odyssey of traveling to their home, finding a suitable, available nursing home, getting Mom settled in, providing around-the-clock care for my Dad, all the while dealing with their 2700-square-foot home that was stuffed FULL of their belongings from a fifty-plus-year marriage.
Read on to learn how we coped (or didn't) and discover ways you, or someone you know, can help aging parents downsize their lives.
Learn More About Caring for Aging Parents
Have You Had to Help Your Aging Parents to Downsize Their Home?
Have you already experienced downsizing your aging parents?
My Parents' Declining Health Contributed to Housecleaning Difficulties
Since my husband and I lived several hours away from my parents, we were only able to drive out to see them about every four to six weeks. Several months before we had to intervene in their lives, I noticed during one visit that their house was not being kept in its usual meticulous condition.
Even though we grew up on a farm where dirt, mud and manure were constantly being dragged into the house, Mom had always taken great pains to keep everything spotlessly clean, tidy and looking its best. She continued that same practice in the house they built in town after they retired from farming. Now, however, I began to see and smell that all was not well in the housecleaning department.
When I gently asked Mom if she wanted me to help her with the housecleaning, she was very insulted and angry. Later, when I asked Dad if he had noticed the declining condition of their house, he said he and Mom were just a little tired and it was nothing to worry about. Dad had always been a very strong-minded, stubborn, independent person, who didn't welcome interference, well intentioned or not.
Neither my husband or I, nor my brothers, realized at that time that Mom was suffering from Alzheimer's disease; that revelation came a few weeks later after my sister-in-law and I brought Mom to Mayo Clinic where her condition was diagnosed.
It was at Mayo that it began to dawn on me what my mother were dealing with and how it was manifesting in her day-to-day life.
Dad's cancer had been treated and he had received a clean bill of health, but he did not seem to be himself. Not long after Mom's diagnosis, we learned that his cancer had returned with even greater virulence.
It was obvious they both needed more care, but would they accept it?
It was Hard for My Parents to Ask for Help, Even Though They Needed It
Both of my parents, but especially my dad, were very independent people, rarely complained about things and never asked for much help from anyone.
Because they were not very demanding, coupled with the fact that we were busy with our lives and did not see them often, it was more difficult for us to realize the degree to which they needed some help with day-to-day living.
Once we did, we contacted their local county health department and arranged for an in-home visit by the public nurse.
The Challenge of Role Reversal: What Happens When Parents Can't Parent Anymore
My dad is on the far right in the picture, above. He is shown with two of his brothers, both of whose farms were within a quarter mile of ours.
Dad is wearing what was essentially his uniform: bib overalls with a blue chambray shirt in the summer, changing over to a plaid flannel shirt in the winter. Farming is not for the faint of heart, but I truly believe he loved what he did; he didn't have to answer to anyone and was his own boss.
He was a bit of a perfectionist and always insisted on having the neatest farmyard, he washed and waxed farm equipment and insisted on clean fields, without rocks or weeds.
From the time we were old enough to be more help than hindrance, we had chores to do every day. As I got older, it occurred to me that keeping everything just so must have been his way of wearing out the three of us kids so we had no energy to get into trouble!
Regardless of his motivation, it worked. He was the boss and we did what said.
Fast forward to 1995. The combination of his being used to running things, his diminished mental capacity due to the ravages of the cancer, and Mom's increasingly advanced Alzheimer's symptoms, made it very difficult to get either of them to understand that he and Mom needed more day-to-day help in order for them to be able to safely stay in their home for much longer.
His response was that he was not going to move out of his house unless he was carried out and that is where the discussion ended.
However, a couple of months later, Mom wandered off, and I received the county official's ultimatum to deal with the situation immediately.
After that, everything changed and Dad had no influence on what happened. By then, however, he was pretty much too sick to care.
How I Wish I Had Known About This Book When Dealing With My Aging, Ailing Parents - It is a must-have, must-read, must re-read book!
When I was unexpectedly thrust into the situation of having to deal with my aging parents, I had nowhere to turn and virtually no one to help me through that difficult time. Unfortunately, this book, "The Complete Eldercare Planner, Revised and Updated Edition: Where to Start, Which Questions to Ask, and How to Find Help" by Joy Loverde, had not been written. Now that it exists, I would encourage everyone who is, who will be, or who knows someone who is or who will be caring for an aging parent, to read and implement the information found in this planner.
It is a practical, A to Z, how-to guide that clearly lays out everything needed to prepare and execute a plan of action that will benefit you and your aging parent. The book includes detailed chapters covering common legal matters, insurance, managing medical care, addressing money matters, emergency preparedness, creating a care team, and communication.
Most importantly, in my opinion, it also has a chapter covering vital information on how to be kind to yourself, the adult child of an aging parent, during this stressful process.
Enter My Brothers and Myself, the Caregivers - I was SO NOT READY for the job!
Okay, my brothers and I were considerably older than this picture indicates when we realized we would be taking care of our parents, but, speaking only for myself, I felt about as young and unprepared for the job as I looked here.
I remember telling my husband that I was not old enough to be dealing with the situation we were facing, and that I seriously doubted I ever would be.
But that did not change the fact that something had to be done and someone had to do it.
That someone was mostly me.
When I was told by the deputy that Mom had to enter a nursing home ASAP, I called my twin brother, who lived on the family farm four miles from our parents, and updated him on the situation. I told him I was driving out and that he needed to find a place for Mom.
Now. Just do it. Figure it out. Make it happen.
Then I called Dad and told him I would be arriving in less than two hours and we would talk more when I got there.
After that, I called my older brother and told him what was going on and to be at Mom and Dad's house the next morning to decide who would do what.
The upshot of everything was that my brother found a nursing home, but it was seventeen miles away, the closest one with an immediate opening.
That night I packed Mom's clothes and went the next morning to check her out of the local hospital, where she was in protective restraints to prevent her from wandering off. I drove her to the nursing home, dreading the moment when I would have to walk her in, find her room, then leave her there.
It was hands down the most horrible moment of my life.
Mom still had enough awareness to know that her life was changing and would never be the same. She begged and begged me to take her home, and she did not understand when I told her I could not. It was an awful experience I will never forget.
When I got back to their house, it was decided that I would stay with Dad during the week and my brothers would alternate spending the weekends with him. The fact that Dad did not fuss about the arrangements told me how ill he really was.
During the next six weeks, I cooked him his favorite meals, for which he had less and less appetite, due to the spread of the cancer. As the days passed, he spent more and more time sleeping, leaving me with lots of free time.
I decided to start cleaning the house and thought I would start on the spare bedroom.
What a shock awaited me when I opened that bedroom door...
Learn More About Downsizing Seniors
Hoarding - An Alzheimer's Symptom - I opened the bedroom door to find an avalanche of paper, clutter, garbage and clothes
As I opened the door to the spare bedroom in my parents' house, I was stunned at what I saw: it was quite literally an avalanche of paper, clutter, garbage and clothes.
I was speechless.
As I began to go through the debris, I discovered that tucked inside newspapers, magazines, letters, garbage bags (full of garbage), used bakery boxes, pockets of clothes, dresser drawers and under the mattress, was money.
Lots of money, as it turned out.
I found over $400 in cash and coin. Evidently hoarding, to one degree or another, is a fairly common symptom of Alzheimer's.
At that moment, I realized I would have to go through absolutely every single piece of paper, magazine, newspaper, closet, cubby, box, bag, drawer, and cabinet in the entire house to make sure I did not accidentally throw away something of value.
It took every last day of the six weeks I stayed in my parents' house to go through it, all 2700 square feet.
I washed every stitch of my parents' clothing, bedding, toweling and linens, since I could not be sure when it had last been done.
As I sorted through everything, I had Dad tell me what to keep, throw, give away or sell, but his strength was limited, and I was soon on my own.
Shortly into the beginning of the sixth week of my stay, Dad was too weak for me to care for him any longer, and he was admitted to the hospice wing of the local hospital.
Five days later he died, just as I finished with the last bit of cleaning.
Where Are You On The Downsizing Spectrum?
Image from Microsoft Office
How would you classify yourself?
The Lessons I Learned From This Experience
1. Be prepared.
I was not and it made the whole event extremely difficult.
2. Communicate with family.
Our family has never been great at communication and that hindered the process.
3. Start the downsizing process early.
We should have started much sooner by winnowing out the unnecessary items in their house. Too much stuff is not good.
4. Educate people.
TODAY is the day to think about how you will start to downsize, for your parents and for yourself.
Organize Your Stuff - Sort. Stow. Smart.
Tame the tangle of store receipts with this invaluable mobile scanner
Every room in your home will benefit from these surprisingly easy-to-implement organizing options found in this clearly-written book