What to Do When Your Parents Need Different Levels of Care

Your parents have spent a lifetime together. They’ve probably weathered storms small and large and encountered challenges you may never even know about. They have made it through a lifetime together, and that matters. So when faced with the reality that their care needs are different, you may not know what to do. You don’t have to separate your parents, and in most cases you shouldn’t. Here’s what to do if your parents need different levels of care.

Why Keeping Your Parents Together Matters

Relationships make life worth living. Parents who have a good marriage have supported one another for decades and know each other better than anyone else could. This alone is reason to keep them together. Emotional health matters, and the trauma of being away from a lifelong love may destroy a person’s quality of life.

Keeping your parents together also offers significant health benefits, including:

  • Less caregiver stress for you. When your parents can support one another, they will rely on you less. You also won’t have to worry about visiting them in two different communities, or taking the blame for splitting them up.
  • A familiar routine. For seniors with cognitive decline, predictable patterns and routines are critical. Transitioning to a senior community offers many benefits, but the unfamiliarity can disrupt your loved one’s routine and sense of security. Keeping them with their spouse offers a familiar face and a reassuring hand to hold.
  • More fun. Senior living isn’t just for people who are sick. Seniors who move to independent living communities thrive by pursuing new activities, going on field trips, and making friends. When your parents are together, they can enjoy the new experience — even if one of them is in poor health.
  • Less isolation. Loneliness can be deadly, especially for seniors in poor health. Keeping your parents together can ease the loneliness that so often accompanies aging.

The Importance of Autonomy

Even if they have dementia, your parents are not pets; you cannot separate them, send them wherever you want, and dictate how they live their lives. Your parents have a right to live life on their own terms, even if you disagree with their decisions. If they need different levels of care, odds are good that at least one of them is competent enough to make their own decisions. So it’s important to get buy-in for whatever decision you think is best. Rather than trying to argue with stubborn parents, don’t try to override their autonomy. Instead, work with them to solve the shared problem of staying together while getting the necessary support.

Talking to Your Parents

When talking to your parents about moving, a few strategies can help:

  • Highlight to the healthier parent the ways that a move might improve their life — by requiring fewer caregiving duties, for example.
  • Emphasize that the choice is your parents’. Your job is to help them find a way to maximize their quality of life while still staying safe.
  • Don’t talk over your parents or demean their feelings. Whatever their concerns are, they matter. You must take those concerns seriously if you want to convince them.
  • Don’t demand that your parents make a decision right away. This should be an ongoing conversation.
  • Talk about long-term care as a joint problem to solve, not something you intend to force your parents into.

Finding the Right Care

You probably already know that keeping your parents together is better for everyone. The challenge is finding a way to do it. One option is to keep them at home and hire in-home care for the parent with more complex needs. This can work for a while but may become quite expensive. You may also find that you’re taking on more care work than you can handle.

The good news is that many senior living communities integrate several levels of care under one roof. Your parents can enjoy independent living, assisted living, and even memory care within the same community. Not only does this allow them to stay together, but it also ensures that, even when both parents’ needs change, they can stay together and enjoy a continuity of care in the familiar community they call home.

The right senior living community can help your parents stay together and enjoy their shared life, even when their needs are different. Good communities understand that relationships give life meaning. They prioritize these relationships by giving both partners the care they need, even as those needs change. For help finding the right senior living community for when your parents need different levels of care, download our free guide, “Finding a Safe and Comfortable Senior Living Community.”

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