In this episode of ‘Conversations on Wealth’, host Sarah Widmeyer speaks with Matt Del Vecchio, founder of Lianas, and a life-transition specialist about the challenges adult children face when helping their aging parents transition from their home to a retirement residence.
Sarah Widmeyer 0:16
Welcome to Conversations on Wealth, a podcast dedicated to helping Canadians navigate the complexities of your wealth with a multi-dimensional approach to planning and wealth management. I’m Sarah Widmeyer, SVP and Head of Wealth Strategies at Richardson Wealth, and today we’re discussing some of the challenges faced by adult children or caregivers of aging parents as they help them transition from home to retirement residence. Joining me today is a returning guest, in fact, our first guest life transition specialist, Matt Del Vecchio, President of Lianas Senior Transition Support.
Matt Del Vecchio 0:55
Sarah, thanks for having us back. Happy to be back enjoying it,
Sarah Widmeyer 0:58
it feels like you know, where did two years ago.
Matt Del Vecchio 1:02
It’s amazing two years already. Glad to be your inaugural one. And thank you for the invitation.
Sarah Widmeyer 1:07
So glad to have you back. This is such an important conversation. Transitioning an aging parent or loved one from their home to a retirement residence might be the ideal solution to ensure they have an ease of living care options and companionship and activities close by. But despite these perks, the transition to retirement living isn’t always that easy. And I can say that from personal experience. As my brother and I navigate this journey right now with our mom. This is especially true when our loved ones are resistant to change or believe that retirement living isn’t for them. They’re not ready. Matt, what are some of the warning signs you’ve seen that a loved one might need to make a move to residence and I might interject and add some of my own warning signs that I’ve seen but you’re the expert.
Matt Del Vecchio 1:59
Yeah, no and the warning signs are certainly important both from the individual that’s going through some life transitions. And also more importantly, for the adult children where the burden is usually on their shoulders of having to navigate these life transitions. So there’s a few of them I start with physical. So look at some of the physical warning signs may be mum or dad or are at home, there may be some mobility issues, stairs become difficult to navigate getting in and out of a bathtub now is becoming more difficult, more risks of slips and falls. So there’s the physical portions of things. Even getting dressed and undressed sometimes can become issues putting on socks and shoes. Now one of the, I guess the more sensitive ones and something that you’ve been going through, as well as on the cognitive side of things. When there’s cognitive decline, this one’s more challenging. There’s a lot of denial and resistance. Whenever there’s cognitive decline, most of the time you don’t think perhaps you’re much better than you actually are. But now we might get into more serious warning signs where there may be some wandering episodes just wanting to get out, not realizing forgetting to come back. Simple things like forgetting to pay bills, even getting things like expired food in the fridge, forgetting to turn the oven off fire risk, very big warning sign another one. And we’re seeing this more and more Sara’s caregiver stress, especially now a couple years into the pandemic, families have just tried to hang on the best they can. And it’s the old adage of putting the oxygen on yourself oxygen mask on yourself first before someone in the airplane. Because we are seeing time and time again, where the caregiver is now getting more sick than the person they are taking care of. So caregiver stress has always been important. But even more so now we’re seeing this during the latter stages, we’re hoping of the pandemic. And at the last one is in terms of a warning sign would be loneliness and isolation. Particularly for those maybe they’ve lost a spouse or a loved one, and they’re on their own. And they’re making a go of it at home. They just don’t want to get rid of that home. They liked the garden. And there’s a lot of memories there. But deep down there is that loneliness and isolation. And that’s a real concern. It affects not just physically but certainly mentally as well. So that’s another warning sign that we always like to look out for that maybe an alternative senior living environment might be better for Mom or Dad.
Sarah Widmeyer 4:27
Yeah. As you were mentioning them. I was kind of going through the snapshots in my in my mind, and we certainly experienced there were a couple of stove fires. The other thing that I noticed is my mom was always very meticulous with the house. Things were always where they should be and it was always very clean. And I started to notice that she just wasn’t keeping up and you know, being of that generation, bringing somebody in to clean the house was just, you know, a non starter. So that’s what I started to notice as well that things were and quite as neat and clean as I remembered them being
Matt Del Vecchio 5:03
You’re right, it doesn’t have to be something major. But usually it is the little things that you start to notice a little more, and you bring up a very good example of the cleaners. There’s two things there, one, probably mum, and I’m generalizing here, not specifically to your mum, but she’s probably thinking I could still do it. And now you’re getting into the pride aspect Yes, and admitting that maybe there might be a little something off, but they’re gonna put it off. I don’t need a cleaner. Don’t even bother bringing someone in to do a little housekeeping when really, it’s it’s a perfect thing just to give them a break. And, and there’s the whole safety and hygiene aspect as well. So yeah, so little, little steps.
Sarah Widmeyer 5:44
So as an adult child or caregiver, you’re starting to notice these warning signs. What are some of the tips that you would share to have a conversation, I will tell you that we were lucky, because my mom, I mean, it sounds horrible. But it was the silver lining on a bad situation, she fell and she broke her wrist, living alone, she couldn’t look after herself. So thankfully, we had put our name in on a brand new retirement home in the city where she was living. So I was able to quickly get her in there. And that became how we did it. So we actually never had the conversation. We were We were lucky. Not lucky that, you know, we had an incident of forced our hand, which is not the way I’m recommending. But to be clear, I’m not recommending that. So we never actually had the quote unquote, conversation.
Matt Del Vecchio 6:38
Yeah, like you say it is a silver lining. In fact, we call those trigger events. So trigger events are very, very important. And I’ll give a few examples. But even before trigger events, we always suggest try to start to have the conversation early. And it doesn’t have to be like a week ago, two weeks ago, even earlier, I don’t know mom or dad are talking about doing their wills again or updating their wills. That’s a conversation starter. Oh, by the way, do you have a power of attorney in there? You know, have you thought about advanced care directives? Have you discussed these things in these wills? You know, you’re not being forceful. But you know, it’s a conversation starter. But it’s really the trigger events that we have to start looking for. So slips and falls perfect trigger event, hospitalization would be a conversation starter boy wouldn’t know what happened. Are you okay? But why did it happen? And you start to inquire about that. We mentioned forgetting to pay some bills, or some wandering. You know, we’ve had episodes where the police have had to call in because my goodness, mom or dad hasn’t hasn’t returned home. A trigger event. Actually, Sarah could be something on the news that you see a podcast just like this, this is a trigger of it. You’re listening to this right now? Oh, you know, Mom, I was listening to the news, or I heard a podcast about this, they brought up some interesting points. That’s a conversation starter. So you want to look for some of these things, friends, neighbors, if they’ve gone through something like this, have those discussions. And another important, I guess group of people would be the persons of authority. You know, you’re off to the doctor’s appointment, doctors have probably even more influence than the children. You know, a lot of times children, it’s like, okay, what are you up to, you know, there’s what’s the ulterior motive and whereas doctors, they’ve got to listen to the doctors, if they’re dealing with social workers, even conversations with their wealth planners, or their accountants, these are all persons of authority that may actually have more say, than even the adult children. So just trying to find different ways to start conversations about life transitions, and what would you want later in life?
Sarah Widmeyer 8:41
And so this is a question that I hadn’t planned to ask you. But it’s a question that comes from my own personal experience. What happens when you’re met with such resistance? What we started to do is we started to bring help into the home. My mom refused to pay for it, we paid for it. And then we transferred funds to pay the bills that we were paying on her behalf to make it safe and possible for her to stay in her house probably longer than what she should have done. But so again, speaking from personal experience, those conversations were not good conversations. She was not happy with us. So any tips or advice to help people in that situation?
Matt Del Vecchio 9:24
Yeah, I think first of all going into it. Understand, there will be resistance. Yeah. Okay. Because once we start getting confrontational and adversarial, then you know, you’re butting heads, know that there will be resistance, denial and resistance, very common. Most of the time, moms and dads think they are better. They’re better than they actually are. And that’s okay. God bless them. This is why they’re survivors. This is why they’ve done so well. But going into it knowing there’s resistance and not wanting to pick a fight. One of the things we always advise is not this is going to be good for you. You know, this is what you should do you know It’ll be patronizing. Yeah. But how is it starting to affect the children? How is it starting to affect you, you’re a busy person, you have a job, you’ve got children of your own set, typical sandwich generation. And mums, and dads will tend maybe there’s a little guilt in there, okay. But they will tend to listen a little bit more when they truly understand how it’s affecting the children. And you’ve had to take off work. Often, in fact, some people have even left work. And my we need a little help, we need you to be understanding and sort of reversing it a little bit. But that always helps. It’s not going to solve the resistance, but is planting seeds, having these conversations, looking at trigger events, having a conversation and might not home aging in place that you’re talking about. We’re going to talk about that I in fact, I believe later on. But aging in place is also important. No one’s trying to force anyone to move, let’s try to arm you at home. But it usually starts with that cleaning lady example. There’s a small example. But that’s planting a seed and then you’re just building it up.
Sarah Widmeyer 11:05
I remember my parents who were both teachers, when we had teenage girls who are gonna cringe when they hear this. But in terms of meeting that resistance, my my parents would say keep talking to them. They’re listening. They are listening, keep talking to them. So you know, as you said, plant the seed. They’re listening and know you don’t want to use guilt. But I think it does help to position the impact that it’s having on you, their child who they would do anything for.
Matt Del Vecchio 11:31
That’s right. Yes. There’s the guilt aspect. But all you’re doing is stating the facts, because this is a true the sandwich generation these days. It’s very, very difficult on them.
Sarah Widmeyer 11:40
So changing gears then. So we’ve had the conversation, we’re having the conversation. And now we’re starting to look for a senior living community. What are the things that we should be looking for? And what are the things we should be looking out for?
Matt Del Vecchio 11:55
Right, yes, very good question. Because we always begin when we go on tours with families, the first absolute priority item is will this senior living community be able to provide the care not just today, but for tomorrow? Right? Okay. So you want to find someplace that can provide some form of continuum of care, hopefully, going in being proactive, as independent as possible, but let’s face it with aging, or it’s going to be more care. So care is number one, on the agenda? Do they have that ability to do that? Is it the right culture, and environment for mom or dad, for example, you may have some that would like to the big cruise ship retirement home tons of social activities and things going on. They want their kitchen, perhaps are kitchenette, do their own thing, but still participate in many of the things they have the pharmacy or the convenience store downstairs, they have a doctor on site, religious reasons, language reasons. Do you see yourself fitting in there? By the way, the answer on the first floor is usually going to be no only old people live there. That’s the answer I get all the time. But you are 89 and the average places age is 85. year but but you we get that a lot. You know, at the type of apartment, if you’re an I’ll give you an example. If you’re in a big four bedroom home, well, you’re probably going to want something like at least a two bedroom or one bedroom, two bedroom apartment as opposed to a smaller studio, you know, a little bit of a downsize. But if you’re already in an apartment or in a condo, maybe you know a smaller one bedroom, or even a studio might be appropriate. So you want to make sure they have the right types of apartment offer. Do you need food included or not many and various right across the country. But some you can get some meals included. But speaking of food, it’s actually very important.
Sarah Widmeyer 13:50
Super important. culinary experience is super important. Like you should see when I visit my mom now. I mean, it’s they’ve got plates of food out dead and everybody’s gathered around to see what’s for dinner. And and it’s super important.
Matt Del Vecchio 14:05
Both from the nutritional perspective, but also on that variety and the social aspect. They’re looking to get down to the dining room and you’re talking to people and you’re not stuck in your apartment. So we always like during tours, we always asked to see if they would be willing to do a complimentary lunch for the individual or the family which serves two purposes. One, check out the food and check out the menu. But more importantly, do you see yourself fitting in with the crowd as this is your type of peoples of food is important. Something that wasn’t normally on our list but infection prevention and control is now becoming more important. Obviously with pandemic safety and security or this is the whole place sprinkler does the individual apartment sprinkler is the reception at the front of lobby or not. Your budget obviously has to come into play and geography has to come into play and just a real quick one on geography. You You as an adult child, have to go into this with where his mom or where his dad 24/7. Because sometimes we see the children tried to influence mom or dad to come closer to the family because the grandchildren will come see you. And you’ll be there. And yes, that may be true. But if you truly you have to look in the mirror, and if you’re only going to be visiting once a week, or the grandchildren once every couple of weeks, but Mum or Dad are there 24/7, geography should not be the number one criteria compared to the care and culture and environment.
Sarah Widmeyer 15:36
That’s such a great piece of advice. We kept mom in a home five minutes from where she lived. And it wasn’t by accident. But I didn’t realize the full benefit of that. It’s a familiar part of town. Neighbors are moving in. People that mom worked with are moving in people that dad worked with mom new are moving in. So it’s it’s like a neighborhood that is getting transplanted from where she was to now where she is. And oh my god, if I’d moved her closer to Toronto, she would never have benefited from that. And in fact, probably the loneliness factor would have even been bigger and the guilt for me to get there. Even more than I do. Probably would have would have, you know, weighed heavily on all of us.
Matt Del Vecchio 16:27
And looking back I’m sure you’re looking and you know, you made the right decision. This may be a little bit more painful for you timewise and travel washer. But you have to look right, what’s best for mom?
Sarah Widmeyer 16:38
Oh, yeah, yeah, no, that that is such an important piece of advice. Okay, so we’ve found now the ideal place we want to move in, what are your tips for a smooth stress free transition, and boy oh boy, can I tell you that a four bedroom house with furniture, I think three pieces of furniture, four pieces of, okay, five pieces, if I count the bed side tables went into that apartment.
Matt Del Vecchio 17:10
The downsizing process is sometimes it’s so overwhelming that some people know they have to move, but they just don’t do it because they’re thinking about that part, downsizing, or it’s too much not and they put it off. So a couple suggestions and tips. First of all, try to find where you’re going first, and actually move. First to see you had to sell a condo or sell a home, you in this generation typically thinks, Well, I’m going to have a closing date of August 1, and I’m going to move in on August 1, it’s a big mistake. Yeah, the move itself is going to be stressful, especially as we age. And when we get older, the burden of moves will very often turn into the adult children’s problems, get mum settled in to wherever she’s going, if you have the financial luxury to be able to pay rent for a couple of months. So you don’t need that asset of the sale of the house or kind of do it, get them settled them. Because it’s invasive people are touring and, and they’re staging and they’re going through everything and you don’t need that stress, the stress of a move is is is gonna So number one, try to move first. And don’t worry about having it land on the exact same date of move out and move in. Decide on what’s going. What can fit, what can’t fit, you brought up a very good point. Because just like you said, Not everything’s going to fit in. So a couple of downsizing tips. Start early, you can start this, you know, years in advance if you want bit by bit. Try it one room at a time. And start with the rooms that aren’t used the most spare bedroom, the basement, a garage, and you create three piles. The yes pile, this has definitely gone with me. the maybe pile and the no pile. And the key is if you take a break, you take that no pile with you, and you get rid of it right away. Because what’s going to happen is an advisor gonna think about it and all of a sudden that no moves to the maybe pile on the maybe moves to the Yes. So little tricks like that starting starting your way through. And then eventually you’re going to have to find place for your stuff. Yeah. And we could say stuff, but you don’t call a stuff with mom and dad. You’re talking memories. This is this is very difficult, right? It’s and it’s the kids and so on. But spoiler alert to parents that are looking to go through this. The kids really don’t want your stuff. It’s and it’s heartbreaking because they usually came from nothing. They spent a fortune on that bedroom furniture or that dining room table or their crystal or that silverware or those royal Dalton’s that are and guess what the kids do? don’t want it. And so it’s a bit of a challenge. So there are places for we’re a big, big believer in supporting those in need, yes, first generation immigration refugees, they will gladly take whatever furniture that they can get if it will fit into their apartments. So we’re seeing tremendous amounts of donations and sort of a second life, the last thing you want is your beautiful furniture to be thrown out one 800 got junk. If you know you’re giving family a second life, then that’s what we want to try to aim for 100%. And I would just finish it off by there are now it’s an industry there are downsizing specialists, yes, go out and talk to them, see what they’re about. And hire a downsizing specialist, it will be the best investment that you could do, because it’s going to give you some peace of mind and give mum and dad a peace of mind. These downsizing specialists are amazing.
Sarah Widmeyer 20:51
We actually did use one to help us. My parents had been in the house for 50 years. So you can imagine it was 50 years of accumulated stuff. And we hired that downsizing outfit, and it was the best decision that we made. It really was. Yeah. Okay, so, one of the issues around this transition for the caregiver or adult child is the guilt. And this is, I can’t even look at you when I say that word, because the guilt that I feel is at sometimes crippling. The guilt is, it’s just you feel such guilt. And so what’s your advice on how to deal with the guilt please, of transitioning a loved one from their cherished home and I’ll one up you. We just sold my mom’s home, and she doesn’t know it. Now she has Alzheimer’s and with Alzheimer’s, you have to keep her on a steady emotional plane. And the selling of her home would tip her down the scale in terms of her cognitive ability. So we’ve just sold the family home, and Mom doesn’t know. So you can imagine the guilt that I have sitting beside you today. Yeah, please help me.
Matt Del Vecchio 22:11
This is probably the most difficult and we could have a whole other episode on guilt, so I’ll just try to be as condensed and brief as possible. And we could hear it in your voice I’m looking at here even as a podcast, and it’s already been done. But there’s still the guilt. And, and by the way, very normal and very natural, and one of the toughest things that families have to go through. However, usually where we see increased bouts of guilt is when a decision is made at a higher level of care. You know, it’s usually not a situation was proactive moving into this beautiful retirement home, this is what everyone wants. If it gets to a stage, particularly when we’re dealing with cognitive challenges Alzheimer’s, dementia, and higher levels of care. This is where we start to see the guilt because it’s natural, that the caregiver, whether it’s the spouse or their adult, children want to keep mom or dad age in place as long as possible. And it’s very emotional. And the key easier said than done. But the key is to try to take it from emotional to a rational decision. Okay, and there’s a process to go through that. And again, difficult but you should ask yourself four questions. First, safety and security is mum in a safe and secure environment. So she’s in a safe and secure environment at home while in your new home in her new home, but where she was the guilt is usually comes with comes time to place, right? So I’m talking if we’re in the at home now. And the guilt is a time to move is not. So you have to is it safe and secure? If someone’s on their own living on their own safety and security is even a bigger factor. Second, are you as a caregiver able to truly provide the proper care? And what I mean by that, by the way, one in four Canadians, unpaid caregivers, yeah, is what the stats are. Has any caregiver been to school for caregiving courses, and no one? No, every caregiver has been thrown into that role. And they’re winging it, and they’re trying to do the best they can because they love their or their loved one. So you have to ask yourself, are you able to provide that proper care as care increases? You know, you’re helping out no problem, but all sudden mobility issues and you can’t get in and out of the bathtub. You can’t transfer from bed. Well guess what the caregiver is now doing contortion acts trying to help out and usually the caregiver is a miniature size compared to the husband let’s say that they’re trying to take care of or dealing with you know, ergonomics now and what and even more difficult is cognate took care, you know, 567 80s, you’ve gone through many years of seeing the progression of Alzheimer’s with your mum, and you’re adapting along the way. But are you now at a point where you can provide the proper care? Can you distract? Can you read direct? Are you prepared to hear the endless repetitive questions, and it becomes a little bit more difficult. So are you able to provide the proper care? do number three, do you have the caregiver and support system in place? If you can’t do it on your own? What happens? Is there an adult children that can come in? Is there government funded homecare support that can come in, so if you’ve got that support for you, great. Last one is financial. And your wealth planning comes into play here, because costs usually start at a minimum, then it starts increasing, and you’re hiring more and more home care. And if you can afford it great. So backup, ask yourself these four questions. Is it safe and secure? Are you able to provide the proper care? Do you have the support systems in place? And can you afford it, then great, you can continue your best to age at home. If you can honestly look in the mirror and say you know what? No, we’ve got a couple X’s on these checkboxes. Now you’re moving it from emotion to rational, and you’re still gonna feel guilty, but because you’re rationalizing it, you’ll feel a little bit more comfortable with your decision. And by the way, and I think you’re a prime example. Don’t be surprised that mum may actually be in a better place than where she was at home, after the transition period, you’re feeling better, mum is feeling better, she’s with her friends, she’s socializing, she’s been taken care of. So it’s always the fear of this is going to be terrible. Look what we hear on the news, when in reality, don’t be surprised if it’s not as bad as you think it is.
Sarah Widmeyer 26:52
Yep. I totally agree. And I would say the relief that I felt, and my brother felt knowing that she was safe and secure. That was our biggest, you know, with the with a couple of stove fires and, and she had a bout of dizziness and foul. And, you know, she could be lying there for a day before someone would know that she was, you know, in distress. So I would say yes, the guilt the guilt is less than the guilt was, there still is guilt, but knowing that she’s safe and secure, the relief that floods over you, when you know that is worth the journey.
Sarah Widmeyer 27:45
Matt, I could just keep going and going with you. It’s such a pleasure to talk to you. And you’re so helpful in it and your advice is so common sense. But really important to hear any closing thoughts you’d like to share with us?
Matt Del Vecchio 28:02
You know, I would probably just say, understand that. There will be life transitions. And I always find the families that I work with are handling it the best are those that are able to adapt and cope and be prepared to adapt, because, as you know, I have a weekly radio show. It’s called Life unrehearsed.
Sarah Widmeyer 28:26
Yes, your big time now.
Matt Del Vecchio 28:29
And it’s because life is indeed unrehearsed. No matter how well you plan, you’re gonna get thrown some curveballs so be prepared to adapt, and those that can adapt more easily can usually go through these life transitions a little better.
Sarah Widmeyer 28:42
Yeah. Yeah, well said. I’d like to thank our special guest, Matt Del Vecchio for joining us today and sharing his expertise on this important topic. If you’d like to learn more about how we at Richardson Wealth can help you or your loved one navigate through the significant life transition, you can visit our website at Richardsonwealth.com. You can also follow Richardson Wealth on LinkedIn or Facebook for a broad range of information on many planning topics, including this one. Thank you all for listening, and be sure to tune in for future episodes and more great advice.