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How to Help Your Parents Decide to Move or Downsize

It’s the necessary conversation almost every adult child dreads: talking to mom and dad about moving. Maybe your parents are getting older and want to maintain a smaller space. Maybe they’re having trouble functioning, and need to relocate to an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Often times, moves happen in a hurry because a parent suffers a health crisis. It’s better to consider options well before an emergency, when your parents are healthy and have a say in where they’ll go next.

This can be a complicated time, both logistically and emotionally. “Older adults are no longer in the ‘parenting’ role. They have to come to the realization and be willing to accept some assistance. Their children have to come to a new understanding of their parents,” says Lourie August, a Boston-based geriatric social worker.

When is the right time to downsize? Here are August’s top cues for older adults:

1. They can’t drive, or they have limited transportation options.

2. They’re having trouble getting up or down the stairs.

3. They’re finding it hard to eat or prepare nutritious meals.

4. They can’t keep track of their medications; you might notice mood swings when you visit.

5. House maintenance issues, like shoveling or snow removal, are becoming overwhelming.

6. They’re lonely or isolated.

7. They’re having trouble paying bills. When you stop by, you might notice that mail is piling up, unopened.

8. You notice old or expired food in their refrigerator.

These are just a few examples of potential signs, and of course vary from person to person. When you do decide to start the conversation with your parent, August says to “become an ally with the senior instead of an antagonist. Stress that you’ll work together to find the best down-sizing solution and involve them in the house-hunting process.”

It’s also best to plan ahead so that your mom or dad has ample time to prepare their home to sell. It might need renovations or repairs, especially if it’s a longtime family home that hasn’t been updated for some time.

Finally, August suggests doing your best to get on the same page with your adult siblings. She recommends delegating a specific task for each sibling to cut down on potential resentment. For example, a sister who is a finance whiz might handle paying bills, or a brother with a flexible work schedule might be able to handle medical appointments. Outline these tasks in advance, as being proactive will make the process easier for the whole family.