Dear Carol: Thirty years ago, my parents grew tired of the northern climate and moved to an over-55 community in Arizona. Dad died three years ago, and mom is now 76 and alone. Most of her friends have moved or died.
Mom’s mentally sharp but isolated and lonely and she admits that she misses the ever-changing preteen grandchildren. We want her to move closer so we can take care of her. She says no, but we think that's just from stubbornness. How do we make her listen? — YE.
Dear YE: You want to help your mom and having her move closer to you will make life easier for everybody. Still, she resists. Why?
First, we can all become somewhat comfortable with even less than ideal situations because they are familiar, and change can be scary. So, fear of change or even inertia might be part of your mom’s reluctance to move.
Another part, though, might stem from her feeling that this move could mean the end of her autonomy. For that reason, I’m asking you to think about your approach. It sounds as if you are telling your mom that you want her to move closer so that you can take care of her. Furthermore, you want her to “listen to you.” You mean well, but your mom may not feel ready to be taken care of and she most likely resents being told to listen to her adult child.
You may or may not have voiced those exact words to her, but she can sense it if the feeling is there. Why not shift your approach to one that suggests that you and the family need her? You could say, “Mom, we really miss you and you’ve got so much to share with us. The kids want to spend more time with you, and now, between school and activities, we can’t visit you as often as when they were younger.” If you mean this when you say it, she will also sense that.
The idea is to let her know that she can contribute more to the family if she lives nearby. We all like to feel needed and useful rather than like we’re baggage to be handled. If you word your request in a way that living closer can enhance life for everyone, she may feel that making this move is a good idea.
Do your research locally so that you can offer suggestions for housing, transportation and independent entertainment, as well. Certainly, you should consider her future needs while you look, but also consider her current need for independence. Keep working with her on this with respect for your mom's autonomy, and I think you'll succeed.
What about older adults who are showing signs of dementia? In this case, you might have to force a move, but everyone wants to feel needed. Try positive language first, so see if you can get them to visit for an extended time. That might make a real move easier to accomplish.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.