by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

Q: A year ago I moved closer to my mom so that she could stay in her own home as she ages. I have noticed that her social life is declining, and she seems more isolated. She has always been very social and it is difficult to watch her just sit around. Would she be better off in a retirement community?

A: Aging in our own home is often the stated goal as we think about our “golden years”. The problem with that can be isolation, especially if a spouse dies, friends move away, or the ability to participate in social activities declines. It is great that you moved closer to help out and can observe first-hand the changes taking place. Your move is certainly valid, even if your mom does decide to move to a retirement community.

A good starting point would be to determine why she is staying home more. Does she have mobility issues? Is she experiencing memory problems? Could she be depressed? Does she still have opportunities for socialization? There are a variety of reasons a person may become more isolated. Working with her medical team and/or other social service professionals can help you identify why you might be seeing a change. Once you have identified and addressed possible causes, you can move forward with a plan of action. 

It is important that your mom be involved and feel like a part of any decisions that may impact her living arrangement. Her “buy in” to the idea is important to adjustment. Ideally the two of you can have a conversation about her options. Involving other siblings, professionals or close friends might be helpful as well. You want her to feel in control of the process and any decisions being made, even if you are prompting the conversation.

There are a few options you might discuss to increase socialization. It helps to have a desk calendar that you can use to write out upcoming dates or events. There should be something to look forward to each week. Even routine things, like a trip to the hair dresser can be a social activity. If you find the entire calendar is filled with medical appointments, you need to find a way to strike a better balance.  Seeing the social activities listed out for the month can help a person feel more connected. Here are some things you might try:

  • Join a local book club with her. If she is having memory issues, you can be there to help her remember key discussion points.
  • Participate in a local adult day program.
  • Locate and participate in local senior center programs and activities. 
  • Consider forming a lunch group of other mother/daughter duos in the area.
  • Look for volunteer opportunities, such as walking dogs or reading to kids.
  • Consider hiring a companion who can get her out to activities she might enjoy but is no longer comfortable doing alone.

The option of a retirement community or assisted living facility would offer a more structured environment with activities and group meal options. A good starting point would be set up lunch at a few and plan some visits during activity times. Maybe visit one per month to get her comfortable with the idea. You can ask the community staff to help make introductions to other residents who might be close to her age and functional level. Try not to overwhelm her with thoughts of a move or selling her house; just introduce her to the communities available and try to find one that is a good fit for her. If she has friends who have moved to similar communities, try setting up some time with them as well. Change can be very intimidating, but you can help by introducing options and offering encouragement. If an unforeseen circumstance were to occur that prompted a transition from home to facility, it will help that she has had some previous exposure, so the time you spend exploring now is well spent. 

It’s not easy to see life changing around you, often beyond your control. So be patient with her and try to address the underlying issues that are creating the changes you see. Continue to offer resources and options, knowing it may take some time to embrace a new idea. 

Readers may send questions to Amy Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at amyn@agingoutreachservices.com .