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It’s Just Temporary

Updated: Mar 21

A white lie about a visit to assisted living only being a temporary stay might actually do more harm than good.

Lately, the senior citizens of America are speaking out! They are running for president and getting older and older by the day and they will do whatever they want!

But in all seriousness, American senior citizens aren’t moving into assisted living by choice anymore. As a sales director, I was often met with a million and one reasons why a person didn’t want to move in, regardless of it possibly being the best option for them.

Some would give in and realize that it might be nice to get meals, or have someone take out the trash and make the bed. They like the idea of having other people around to help out so they don’t burden their children. But most people will leave their homes kicking and screaming and only if some kind of emergency happens and they don’t have a choice to return.

Some probable examples:

A fall where the person ends up in the hospital and becomes so weak that they couldn’t possibly do their activities of daily living without help at home.

An elopement where the person gets lost and then picked up by the police to be sent to the emergency room and then often shifted to a behavioral health system where they are deemed unable to return home alone.

An illness such as cancer, pneumonia, COVID-19, etc., in which the person ends up in the hospital, becomes weakened, and then a stay in rehab to attempt to recover.

Another emergency medical event such as a heart attack, stroke, low blood sugar, the list goes on…

Either way, it’s rare that a person just decides to move into assisted living without some kind of degeneration of their ability to take care of their home or themselves.

Home care is always a great option but sometimes it’s not the best answer because it can be even more expensive than moving into assisted living and sometimes the home situation isn’t ideal because of other factors.

Some families have resorted to telling their loved one that it’s a temporary situation and that they will be able to go home when they meet some rehabilitation goals. I used to ascribe to this practice, knowing full on well that they weren’t ever going home, but I’ve had a change of heart and no longer offer this advice for a few reasons.

Telling a white lie to a senior about the semi-permanence of their living situation only really works for people with memory loss, and it doesn't always work. Typically, if someone has dementia, they will eventually be acclimated to the assisted living memory care and will forget that you told them that it was temporary. At first, they will repeatedly ask to go home, but eventually, they settle in to the routine and tend to do very well with regular care and engagement. This is why assisted living communities with memory care tend to prefer that families wait a little while before they come to visit so the resident has some time to settle in. I’ve seen this practice work for dementia.

I’ve this practice miserably fail for someone who doesn’t have memory loss. The premise behind the lie is that the person will eventually enjoy living in the assisted living because they will make friends and love their apartment and will not want to go home. This isn’t the case because you already premised the whole situation with a light at the end of the tunnel that will never come. I’ve heard ladies say at their dinner table, “Well I’m going home soon so I don’t don’t know if I will be here for that trip to the dollar store on Friday.” Or they will just pack their apartment and bring all their bags to the lobby, one by one, in the middle of the night and wait for their son to pick them up. I’ve seen some stubborn elderly folks and I don’t blame them.

I know that in a lot of cases, families are using the lie for their Hail Mary, just to get mom out of a dangerous situation, but at the end of the day, if she is of sound mind, she will remember that she’s going home one day and nothing in the community will every be good enough. This is why I don't suggest offering the lie in the first place.

So how do you convince your loved one to move into a place if they don’t want to? You have a frank discussion with them about safety and your concerns and you try to come up with compromises for their excuses. Maybe even come up with a plan before you have the discussion with them. Have some options available that you’ve already vetted. You can probably predict what their excuses are so be prepared.

If they claim they don’t have the money but you know that they do, make a spreadsheet of all their current expenses and what the consolidation would look like if they moved to assisted living to prove that they can afford it. If they don’t want to eat meals with other people, see if there is a way to have meals delivered. Allow them to decide and be involved with the search so that you find the best place that will suit their needs and personality. Assisted living communities are in the business of customer service and many will make concessions where needed to get the resident. But if your mom hates the layout of the dining room and it doesn’t feel like a good fit, the temporary lie will just make her more adamant that she eventually go home.

The end game is to find a compromise that is good for everyone rather than telling a white lie to get your loved one to move into a place that you chose. Think about it from their point of view. Would you want someone else telling you where you need to live? Probably not. Would you engage in a discussion with them if they met all your objections with reasonable compromises? You probably would.

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