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How to Plan and Prepare as Your Parents Transition into Retirement Living

Written by Deborah Bakti 

The day my mom Carol moved into Independent Retirement Living I felt a combination of excitement, relief, anxiety, and grief. This was a necessary move to pre-empt a potential crisis, like her falling or forgetting to take all her medications. These are the risks that show up for all of us as our parents age and deal with health issues.

My mom was in average health. She’d had a couple strokes 15 years previously and spent years as my dad’s caregiver while his health declined with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia before he passed away.

Here she was in her early 80’s, living alone and not acknowledging, or perhaps just ignoring the quiet signs of frailty creeping in. I didn’t blame her; I might ignore the signs too. But she was starting to eat less and forget more. We needed to help her see the risks of her living alone, and gently present other options that would be safer and more comfortable for her. Not to mention, options that would also provide us with much-needed peace of mind.

This is a common conundrum for all of us grown kids that want to help guide our parents and do what’s best for them as they grapple with the challenges of aging. Sometimes we tend to make these decisions, either with or for our parents, from a tactical and strategic perspective. We feel we need to manage their aging, and physical and cognitive changes to keep them safe and comfortable.

What typically isn’t talked about is the emotional impact of this lifestyle adjustment, especially if you are the driving force to make this change happen. It’s not uncommon for families to feel the myriad of emotions from excitement to anxiety, from relief to guilt, and even grief. These changes can represent both loss and freedom simultaneously. It’s important to understand what’s occurring emotionally for you, so you can embrace this new life phase with your parents, as well as be the best kind of support as they transition into their new lifestyle in retirement living.

Here are 3 questions that can help create more clarity and comfort.

1.      What does success look like to you?

Think ahead six months from now, and imagine you’re telling a friend or co-worker about how ecstatic you are with your parent’s new retirement living home. What needs to be in place for you to rave about it? How are you feeling when you go there to visit? What are your relationships like with the care team members? What do you appreciate the most?

Now share this vision of success with the General Manager (or whoever you’re connected with.) Every family defines success differently, and by sharing what matters to you (and to your parents), enables them to better meet your specific expectations so that disappointment and frustration are avoided.

2.       What are your expectations? Are they realistic?

You are now a customer, and it’s important to understand if there’s a gap between what you expect going in, and the reality of retirement living.

It’s common to have expectations based on assumptions or preconceptions, particularly if this is your first experience with a family member moving into retirement living. We often rely on what we read in the news or hear from other people to shape our expectations.

Disappointment usually arises when expectations and reality don’t line up. To avoid this, clarifying and adjusting expectations is key. Use this as an opportunity to share your perceptions and expectations so that you minimize misunderstandings that could derail relationships with those providing the care in the home.

3.      What is your biggest concern right now?

The decision to move your parent(s) into retirement living is typically triggered by a health concern or crisis. You realize a need to remove risks and to provide a more safe, secure environment. You know what circumstances need to be avoided, but the new environment isn’t as clear, because it’s new and unknown.

My biggest concern was for my mom’s social and mental health. I wanted her to be in a place where she would make new friends.  She was introverted and liked her quiet time, and I was worried that she would feel lonely and isolated. By sharing that, the staff were extra helpful with finding the best table for lunch and dinner and they went to great lengths to introduce her to residents who loved welcoming “the newbies.”

Sharing your answers to these questions is a proactive way to build a relationship with your parents’ care team. These conversations can help build partnerships founded in trust and respect which is key to a successful experience in retirement living.


Deborah is a Seniors’ Care consultant, coach, speaker and trainer, through her company THINK Breakthrough Inc. She has helps care team members and residents’ families create better connections through empathy and a relational approach.

She’s the author of RECIPE for Empathy: Six Strategies to Transform your Families into Fans in Seniors’ Care, and her latest book Now What? Managing the Emotional Journey of Long Term Care for Families, and host of the podcast “Seniors’ Care Matters”

Deborah not only worked as a corporate executive in seniors’ care 11 years, but she also lived the experience as a resident’s family member three times, with her dad, mom and husband.

Deborah Bakti

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