Older adults see where they live as the Alamo and will make their last stand defending it. We advance with logic, manipulations, and threats, and they use any means at their disposal to repel us. Here’s why.
1. The place they call home is usually the last spot on earth they control, and for them, control is everything in a world where all authority is fading. They know that once they lose what they call home, the “endgame” begins, and there’s no going back.
2. Older adults fear the loss of independence and nursing homes more than death, a telling finding from the “Aging in Place in America” study commissioned by Clarity® and The EAR Foundation. When asked what they fear most, seniors rated loss of independence (26%) and moving out of home into a nursing home (13%) as their greatest fears. Just 3% of seniors indicated that death was their greatest fear. (Link to study)
Adult children are compelled by real or potential safety issues to get aging parents to move. They are hoping their parents will finally agree. In most cases, they never do. They may ultimately acquiesce to pressure from the family, but they are more than willing to “hold position” until events “force” a change. This strategy makes the caregivers crazy because they can see it coming and are at a loss to understand why aging parents they remain blind to the threat. What happens if they fall or have a stroke? But their parents don’t see it that way. They look at the same facts and come up with a different interpretation of the risk. Here is what they see.
They see their home as the best place to be, especially if events take a turn for the worst. They aren’t blind to what is coming. Many older adults admit to “wondering” what’s going to get them in the end. The question isn’t “if” or “when;” the question for most older adults is “where.” They also know a fall, stroke, or heart failure will end their residency. Most seniors usually chose to stay put in their Alamo despite these unavoidable facts of the last phase of life.
So, where does that leave their adult children? Mostly standing by and waiting for the phone to ring. For a population accustomed to taking action and getting things done, it is a frustrating and stressful role. But it also provides a valuable lesson about how both parties define success at the end of life.
Most adult children define success in caring for aging parents as the art of keeping everything together. Aging parents define success as the art of preserving as much control as possible for as long as possible. Their home. Their health. Their family. Their friends. Their mobility. Their finances. Their spouse. Another day in their home is a profound victory in the loss-filled world.
So it becomes a dance between preservers and managers who both genuinely care about each other even if they can’t always show it. It is two generations with two different agendas with different needs, hopes, and fears forming an awkward but essential partnership to navigate the unthinkable.
In the end, it is not about getting them to move but instead helping them to get ready to break camp whenever the occasion presents itself. It is about assisting them in preserving the ultimate independence, control, and gratitude for one more “good” day while it lasts