April 16, 2009
MetroWest CARES — the Committee Addressing Resources for Eldercare Services, is coordinated by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ with support from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey — brings together professionals and lay leaders from MetroWest agencies that provide services to older adults. Each month, a MetroWest CARES agency presents an educational column on an eldercare issue; this month’s article on relocating older relatives is presented by Jewish Family Service.
“I’m getting tired of living alone in Florida, with the hurricanes, sickness, and recent death of my friends.”
While these words were uttered by my mother, they could easily have come from one of the many hundreds of Elderlink callers (the centralized telephone information and referral program for older adults in the MetroWest community) whom I speak with on a monthly basis. As a professional in the community with lots of contacts and knowledge of the housing options, I thought helping move my mother back to New Jersey would be relatively simple. Although I knew the steps to take to physically relocate my mother, there were significant emotional challenges to be encountered.
This process — known as “reverse migration” — refers to older adults from the Northeast who retired many years ago to Sun Belt communities and are now relocating back to the Northeast. After people led active lives in their retirement communities for years or even decades, they find their needs changing. One spouse may have a disability or perhaps has died. Since they don’t have the informal supports and want to remain independent, the option of moving back to a place where they have long established ties and family becomes very appealing.
According to the U.S. Census, AARP, and National Council on Aging, older adults are the fastest growing segment of the population. In 2010, one in 10 individuals will be 65 years or older. There is tremendous stress on seniors and their families to find and maintain affordable housing; to acquire and pay for personal care assistance, professional level nursing, and long-term care; and to access other needed services such as transportation. It is important for you and your loved ones to communicate and plan ahead for the Golden Years, so that they can remain independent yet stay connected to their communities.
Moving is considered one of the most stressful situations at any age. Physical limitations, recent deaths, loss of independence, and anxiety about the unknown make relocation particularly difficult for an older adult. Yet once the initial stress is over, there is a journey together that can provide new closeness and strengthen family relationships. Professionally and personally, I can attest that it is possible to welcome a loved older adult back to their home territory.
Most people are not prepared for this aspect of their Golden Years or, as my 81-year-old mother calls them, the “slightly tarnished” years. So where do you begin? Think ahead and prepare yourself and your parent or loved one for this possibility. Assess your family member’s medical, physical, mental, and cognitive status. Determine how well they are functioning by analyzing their activities of daily living, such as shopping, cooking, bathing, home maintenance, managing health care needs, and driving. Additionally, it is important to size up finances and formalize legal matters.
Consider their social participation and supports. Does your older relative have regular contact with other people in their community? Do they have a social life outside the immediate family?
Once it is decided that returning to New Jersey is the best solution, there are both challenges and opportunities for the whole family. Your family member will have many questions and concerns that will need to be addressed: What kind of home or apartment should I live in? Where do I go food shopping? Which bank should I use? Where can I do my laundry? Who will be my doctor? Old friends may no longer live nearby and establishing new relationships at any age can be difficult. You and your parents may not have resided in the same area for many years so a new balance and boundaries will have to be established. By providing consistent love and support and helping an older relative connect with community resources, a family member can help a loved one become more comfortable in a new environment and develop a social network. The pleasure of having your loved one close by and the comfort and reassurance of being able to help out when needed are benefits for all.
In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, from his speech to the White House Conference of Aging in 1961, “As we get older, we are increasingly called on to celebrate life, to know our place in the cycle of generations, to cherish each moment as a sacred gift from God, and to grow in wisdom.”
If you are considering relocating a family member to New Jersey and would like more information, please contact Jewish Family Service of MetroWest.
MetroWest CARES is sponsoring Welcoming Your Aging Relative to MetroWest, a community conversation, at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC, Ross Family Campus, West Orange, on Thursday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. Join staff from the JCC, Jewish Family Service and UJC, along with other community members, to learn what our local MetroWest Eldercare network can offer you and your aging loved one.
Families and caregivers needing answers to broader eldercare questions and help with community resources can contact Elderlink, a portal to all MetroWest services for older adults and their families. Elderlink can be reached at 973-765-9050, ext. 511, or firstname.lastname@example.org.