What do you do when aging in place isn’t working out for aging parents?

I was recently asked this question by a professional in the senior living industry. Here is what I said:

While the need for control is a consumptive task for aging parents in the final phase of life, it doesn’t necessarily operate in their best interest. Poor control choices about any aspect of aging leads to poor outcomes. Choosing where to live is a prime example.

The desire to remain in the family home at all costs is understandable but can undermine both long term independence and quality of life. Aside from the challenges of upkeep and safety, there is the very real threat of isolation. Aging was never meant to be done alone. In fact, successful aging requires a social scaffolding of support, friendship and community. The challenge for older adults whose aging in place game plan is drifting into dysfunction is how to help them envision and eventually transition to a better environment.

As with all transitions, this requires creative framing to portray the better environment as control friendly, an upgrade for sustained independence and finally a source of support, community and friendship. But there is one other aspect of this framing that is equally as compelling the need for control: Legacy.

It is important to remember that legacy is both created as well as discovered in the final phase of life. It is an “emergent and fortified” narrative of how older adults wish to be known for what had already transpired and what was added in the final act.

When I talk about final contributions to legacy, I am referring to the most powerful element of the life story, which is neither money or any form of material wealth. I am referring to actions aimed at healing life’s wounds so they will not be transmitted to future generations. In most cases this involves a transformative act of forgiveness that alters the destiny of everyone involved in the story.

This need to craft and share their stories offers senior living communities an opportunity to provide older adults with compelling legacy programs that become yet another reason to consider their offering of a better environment when aging in place is no longer working out.