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Published March 22, 2014, 10:30 PM

Minding Our Elders: Aging itself shouldn’t mean a loss of rights

DEAR CAROL: My 76-year-old mother lives alone in the family home and she doesn’t want to move.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My 76-year-old mother lives alone in the family home and she doesn’t want to move. There’s no family in her community anymore though she has good friends as well as her church where she’s very active. She says she feels her age some but is generally happy and she loves her garden. I’d like mom to move from Minnesota to Texas where I live so that I can take care of her. Not only won’t she move to Texas, she won’t even sell her home and move to an apartment in her community. Granted, she’s in very good health for her age, but she has had one bad fall and I worry about her. How can I persuade her to move?

– Ginny

DEAR GINNY: Your mom is in good health and is happy where she is. Assuming that her good health implies good mental health as well as good physical health, she has every right to stay where she is if that’s her preference.

I often am a champion of quality in-home care, assisted living and other helpful alternatives for aging loved ones however I’m an even greater champion of elders’ dignity. Dignity includes the right to make their own decisions regarding their personal life when possible. If your mom, being a comparatively healthy person, wants to stay in her home, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t do so. Yes, she’s taking a risk by being alone, but she has friends. She and her friends can check up on one another so that if help is needed they can take steps to make that happen.

Age should not negate an elder’s right to make personal decisions and the number of years one has accumulated shouldn’t determine his or her living arrangements. That being said, maybe your mother and you can compromise. First, if your mom hasn’t already set up a daily check-in time with a friend, suggest this practical tip to her.

The second suggestion I’m offering is that you ask your mom to sign up for one of the many personal alarm systems available. Maybe she’ll allow you to help research the different companies. Find one that doesn’t require a contract, and ideally a company that has been around for quite awhile. Remind her to not sign up for any service where the call hasn’t originated with her or you. There are telephone scams for this type of service targeting senior citizens.

You mom can wear a necklace or bracelet which, at the touch of a button, can signal a dispatch center if she should need help. One of her friends would likely be happy to be the contact person to check on your mom. If that person isn’t available 9-1-1 will be called. Some systems track a fall and automatically send a responder. There are now many choices available.

Promise your mom that if she does these two things, you’ll stop trying to convince her to move across the country. Call her regularly but don’t push her. Most likely she’ll eventually be ready to move to assisted living either in her home town or in your community. If you recognize her right to make her own decisions while she is still in reasonably good health she may be more willing to make changes as her vulnerability increases.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.