Moving aging parents is a touchy issue. The best home for mom and dad may be the one they're in.
But if you feel they may be better off in a warmer climate, or in a smaller place, or in an assisted-living facility, how do you broach the subject?
"I would say you can bring it up, but don't push it," says Dr. Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. Some more advice:
BE PROACTIVE. "Ideally, you have the conversation many years in advance," says Turner. "[But] don't push the envelope too much unless you know you have the relationship to sustain it. Bring it up in a very subtle way. Maybe they're complaining about all the maintenance costs in the big house they're living in. [Say], 'Have you thought about downsizing? Have you thought about moving to a better climate where you can play golf, or moving to some place where it's warm?'"
DON'T BE PUSHY. "I've just seen many people who come in and say, 'OK, mom and dad, you can't live independently any more, and I've got some brochures for assisted living,'" says Turner. Then parents shut down. "Part of the problem is you're being too aggressive with them," he says. "You have to let them make the decision. In most cases, you want to guide them."
PERSUADE (GENTLY!). "Most people do not like to engage in change, especially as we get older," says Turner. "The way you motivate them is to talk the benefits of making the change." He casually brings up the topic with his own mother, who lives about 1,500 miles away from him. "Have you ever thought about living in California?" he casually mentions to her. "Here are some advantages of living here. Aren't you tired of maintaining this big house?"
VOLUNTEER TO HANDLE LOGISTICS. Parents who are downsizing may be nervous about parting with old furniture and other household items. Raise your hand, and say you can handle the pruning. Turner's mother took care of these details for his grandmother. "She was afraid she would be too emotionally attached," he says. "Some people will say, You take care of it. I don't want to know what happened to it.'" Then you can find someone in (or out) of the family who would want "50 years of National Geographics!" says Turner.
MAKE A MOVING "PRO" AND "CON" LIST. "I'm a big fan," says Turner. "What's going to be tough, and what's going to be easy about this?" Then you can come to the rescue. "You go through and troubleshoot with your parents who to address those issues that are going to be toughest to deal with," he says.
VISIT PLACES. And don't just take an official tour. Talk to people who live there, and be sure to find some of them on your own. "Try the best you can to get unbiased information," says Ted Stimpson, CEO of MyMove.com.
FACTOR IN FREE TIME. Will your parents want to go out to the theater? Or volunteer? What interests them? Don't rule out bigger cities. Your parents may be best off living by more hospitals, stores, and movie theaters.
LEARN THE RULES. Will your parents be allowed to paint their place any color? "Do you need to get approvals if you want to put a new plant in your apartment?" says Stimpson.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE FINE PRINT. If you and your parents choose an assisted-living facility, "review the agreement very carefully," says Stimpson. "What do the monthly fees represent? Are there noise prohibitions?"
FIND A GOOD MOVING COMPANY. "Don't just go online and search for the lowest cost," says Stimpson. "You want someone to see how much stuff you have and give you a written quote. If you don't, you can get a lowball price. They can double your price before they unload."
VOW TO VISIT OFTEN. Won't you want your kids to stop by to see you when your own time comes?
For more stories about your aging parents, read: