Is now the time for ‘talk’ with ag­ing par­ents?


An­other year was com­ing to an end. Betty Tarr’s hus­band had died, and she wasn’t the woman she liked re­mem­ber­ing.

That woman raised three in­de­pen­dent chil­dren. She hiked for fun, vol­un­teered in her com­mu­nity, cut her own grass, loaded the de­bris in her small Ford SUV and hauled it away.

But in 2014, Tarr, 82, was di­ag­nosed with myas­the­nia gravis, a chronic au­toim­mune neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­ease that causes weak­ness in the skele­tal mus­cles. She could no longer drive. She couldn’t clean her house or her yard as she used to. She found her­self fall­ing of­ten.

Like so many of her peers, Tarr had vowed never to leave the home she’d shared with her hus­band.

Her re­luc­tance wasn’t all that un­usual, re­ally. The el­derly make that vow ev­ery day for any num­ber of rea­sons. They fear giv­ing up their in­de­pen­dence. They don’t like con­fronting their own mor­tal­ity.

If you’ve ever had to have “the talk” with your par­ents about why it’s no longer safe for them to age in place, you know it can lead to some salty squab­bles.

The Tarrs, for­tu­nately, didn’t have to have that con­ver­sa­tion.

Betty Tarr, a re­tired reg­is­tered nurse, had had it three times al­ready, and each of those times made the hard de­ci­sion to move her fa­ther, her step­mother and a grand­mother.

“I’ve been on both sides,” she said. “I know how hard it is.”

By the time her three chil­dren dis­cerned it was no longer fea­si­ble for her to stay home alone, Tarr had al­ready ar­rived at that re­al­iza­tion.

“It was a bless­ing she was will­ing to talk about it,” her son Sam Tarr said.

And so two years ago, he and his sib­lings moved their mother from her home in Hartwell, Ga., into a Wes­ley Woods Se­nior Liv­ing com­mu­nity in At­lanta.

Terry Bar­croft, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Wes­ley Woods, has seen plenty of pan­icked chil­dren walk that same path.

Wes­ley Woods has 10 com­mu­ni­ties across north­ern Ge­or­gia and serves 1,800 peo­ple an­nu­ally. Those peo­ple aren’t proac­tively plan­ning their best re­tire­ment. They are mov­ing into com­mu­ni­ties like Wes­ley Woods be­cause they’ve de­vel­oped a sig­nif­i­cant health prob­lem or be­cause it is no longer safe for them to live alone.

“It’s a re­ally big is­sue,” Bar­croft said. “So many peo­ple put that stake in the ground and say they aren’t mov­ing out of a house even when they are strug­gling to main­tain it and are feel­ing iso­lated.”

So many par­ents un­re­al­is­ti­cally be­lieve they can take care of them­selves for the rest of their lives; that mov­ing to a new home is a sign of per­sonal fail­ure.

The truth is, it’s an op­por­tu­nity for them to thrive, to re­main in con­trol of their health and well-be­ing.

“In fewer than 10 years, 1 out of ev­ery 5 peo­ple in Ge­or­gia will be over the age of 60,” Bar­croft said. “You are not alone if you are go­ing through this.”

If you find your­self strug­gling to broach the sub­ject of mov­ing, Tarr sug­gests you tread lightly.

Bar­croft sug­gests you have the talk early and keep in mind that it might take mul­ti­ple con­ver­sa­tions to ar­rive at a de­ci­sion. Either way, it will pre­vent hav­ing to make hasty de­ci­sions that do not meet your par­ents’ needs or re­flect their de­sires.

“The de­ci­sion about where your par­ents or loved ones live is an im­por­tant one that re­quires a care­ful, thought­ful ap­proach,” Bar­croft said. “Start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion be­fore there is a health cri­sis is crit­i­cal for en­sur­ing the best move pos­si­ble.”

When the time comes for a move, re­mem­ber noth­ing beats a per­sonal visit when se­lect­ing a se­nior liv­ing com­mu­nity. Beau­ti­ful sur­round­ings don’t nec­es­sar­ily mean qual­ity care, so ask ques­tions, Bar­croft said.

For in­stance, does the com­mu­nity pro­vide per­son-cen­tered care?

Don’t just talk with the man­age­ment or ad­mis­sions di­rec­tor. Talk to the staff and the peo­ple liv­ing there about their ex­pe­ri­ence.

And don’t be afraid of let­ting go.

“A home is not brick and mor­tar. That’s just a house,” Bar­croft said. “A home is the mem­o­ries and the re­la­tion­ships you bring with you.”

Tarr un­der­stands this per­haps bet­ter than any­one.

But she said it’s re­ally OK to look in the rearview mir­ror. Just don’t stare.

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