Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Speaking with your loved ones about aging with choice

There is a societal mindset that many people share in that I believe can interfere with making good decisions about where and how to live as we age, both now and in the future. This is the idea that the best place for someone to live as they age is the home they are already in—the home they may have been in for most of their adult lives.

I think it is time we update this idea and instead begin to talk about “aging with choice,” meaning choosing to live in the place that best suits our desires and needs as we age. None of us would dream of wearing our winter coats, hats and gloves on a hot summer day—yet, for many people, the home that suited them beautifully at earlier life stages fit their current lifestyle about as well as winter clothes in summer!

If this sounds like your parents’ situation, then perhaps it is time for you to have an Essential Conversation with them about where they want to call “home” for the next chapter in their lives. These conversations can be tricky: we don’t want to sound like we are interfering in our loved ones’ lives or make them feel they can’t make their own decisions. That’s why it is often best to start conversations like these by stating that our intention is to support their independence and quality of life.

If you’ve noticed that a significant amount of your parents’ energy is devoted to day-to-day chores or upkeep of their house, this is an opportunity to talk with them about your hope that they can have more time for the people and activities they enjoy. You may also need to reassure them that neither staying in their current house nor living alone at this stage in life should be considered a badge of honour. In fact, feeling isolated or burdened by your home is more like existing, rather than fully living.

Chartwell Open House

You can also introduce the idea that instead of holding on to “aging in place” as the goal, the real mark of success as we age should be to live in a place that best suits us now and in the future. For example, often a move to a retirement residence means more time for activities people enjoy, new friends to spend time with, and more peace of mind and freedom. And, if care is needed in the future, it can often be provided at the retirement community.

These conversations often need to be done in small bites over time so your parents can think about what is best for their lives now. They also will likely need to spend time visiting retirement residences and getting to know some residents if they are going to be able to picture themselves living somewhere new.

Moving from one chapter of our lives to another is a process. Often it starts with conversations with people who love us and who gently support us having a more fulfilling life than we currently have.  Is it time for you to talk with your parents so they can age with choice?

About Dr. Amy D’Aprix

Dr. Amy is a certified senior advisor, Vice President of the International Federation on Aging, and Co-Founder of the Essential Conversations Project. As a gerontological social worker, she has over thirty years of experience working with older adults and their families.