Sadfilter: Helping an elderly parent/grandparent realize they can never go home.
October 11, 2012 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Strategies for helping an elderly parent, who is living in assisted living, realize/come to terms with the fact that moving home will never be an option and it is now time to sell that home?

My mother is agonizing about how to convince my grandmother that her family home needs to be sold. My grandfather has been gone for 5 years and after my grandmother broke her hip about a year and a half ago (some background here), the family agreed that it was no longer safe for her to live alone in her home and moved her into an upscale nearby assisted living senior community. (In-home care is not an option--I'll spare you all the reasons why.)

My grandmother's house has sat empty since then (though well-maintained by family), and with the real estate market starting to brighten and my grandmother's health only declining, my mother and her siblings are ready to put the house on the market. However, my grandmother is (understandably) very resistant to this idea. A typical exchange will consist of her asking my mother, “Will I ever be able to get out of here/be able to move back home?” and my mother will say that she honestly doesn't see how that will be possible; my grandmother of course gets angry and says “Well we need to sell the house then”--but then the next day will say “You had better not sell my house”. The issue at hand is not so much how to approach her about selling her house (she knows this has to happen--though regularly forgets...part of the dementia? selective memory? Hard to say...) but more one of how to get her to be in agreement/acceptance of the sale. With the Power of Attorney within the Living Trust she and my grandfather had legally drawn up, my mother and her siblings can override her resistance with her diagnosis of the dementia--but as my mom says, who wants to go there?! So much better for all involved if she just agrees to it. For what it's worth she finally agreed to the sale of her car recently and has since not remembered making that agreement, and I think that makes this whole situation even harder. Even if we successfully convince her, who's to say she won't just forget and the whole process becomes something that has to be endured over and over?

Any advice is appreciated--we realize this is a lose-lose situation and it's heartbreaking for everyone involved, but the family is really trying to take the most sensitive approach possible here and avoid straight-up strong-arming my grandmother. Is it possible there is just no reasoning with someone with the kind of dementia/memory problems she has, or is there something we haven't thought of? Thank you in advance.
posted by lovableiago to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not to sound crude or indelicate, (having gone through this exact situation recently) but why not wait until she dies?

The housing market has a great deal of 'Up' left to go and the cost of maintaining an empty house is pretty minimal. assuming she does not have an outstanding mortgage.
posted by French Fry at 10:44 AM on October 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: If you're grandmother has not been to visit the house since moving, and has dementia, and your mother has POA, I would simply sell the house and add the proceeds to the trust. Then you meet "We need to sell the house/don't you sell my house!" with "Don't worry, Mom, the house is fine, we don't need to talk about it today."
posted by DarlingBri at 10:46 AM on October 11, 2012 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, when it became very clear that my gramma would never be able to live on her own again, my mom quietly took care of all things like this without any discussion with anyone other than her brother. My gramma had so few lucid moments that there was seriously no point in wasting any of them with making her unhappy via conversations about her loss of agency.
posted by elizardbits at 10:58 AM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My grandmother, after she moved in with my parents, and began to lose herself to dementia, decided that I was the person responsible for her not living in her own house any more. We have no idea why and it was awful at first and then I just sort of had to get over it. She was not going to get better mentally--the only thing I could control was how I felt and how I reacted when she got vicious at me about my (supposed) having made her leave her house. We did not sell the house--but we did not want to--we just had to deal with dementia and my grandmother being confused and angry that she did not live at home any more. Sometimes, of course, other times there was no issue.

So, my advice, if you need to sell the house, or simply want to sell the house, and you have the legal authority to sell the house, is to just sell the house. Because, as you've suspected, there is no reasoning with someone who is failing through dementia and who cannot reliably hold an opinion about her own business matters. As DarlingBri says, you just say "Don't worry about the house, Mom, we can talk about later." You will not get her to internalize the situation; you won't get her to suddenly be able to remember this one thing while the dementia gets worse.

It feels unkind but that's what you have to deal with--how it feels, not how it is. It IS that your grandmother will not be returning to her house; that FEELS cruel, but if it is cruel, it's not you who is cruel. Your grandmother will likely never really realize or accept that she can't move back to her house on her own, so sell it without trying to make that happen. If selling the house will help fund her care, all the more reason to sell it right away.

The truth is your grandmother's house is not hers anymore. Now she lives in senior housing. And your mother is taking care of her and her affairs by selling the house. Just be kind to your grandmother, by visiting her and gently redirecting her when she wants to talk about the house or moving back to it. And be extra kind to your mom, all the time.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:58 AM on October 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

If you have a big enough family, there's always the approach my own family took - we sold Grandpa's house, but the person we sold it to was my brother (he and his wife were looking anyway, and were living there while they looked - Grandpa knew - and the family ultimately just quietly sold it to him and Grandpa continued to think he was just using it temporarily). If another family member is willing to buy it, especially if they need a house anyway, your grandmother can continue to think that it's just a temporary situation for them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The problem here is that no matter how much you get her to agree today - as you've already seen - it doesn't mean she will agree, understand, remember, or be okay with it tomorrow. No, there is no way to "pin" a single memory on a single subject in a person with cognitive difficulties with regard to memory and emotions.

I think what you're wanting, ultimately, is to feel okay about what you're going to have to do. I don't know that that's 100% feasible either. This sucks a lot. There will probably be days - if you choose to tell her the truth - when she will be relieved that you sold it, and then days where she accuses you of doing very very horrible things in order to sell her house and steal the money.

This is not an actual good reason not to sell it, especially if the proceeds will contribute to her care or if any of you have a financial liability if something happens to the house. She's only going to know what you tell her, so...all of you decide what to tell her and stick to that.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:14 AM on October 11, 2012

Since the market is brightening and seems to be on track to continue brightening, what is the harm in allowing the house to continue on as it is until she transitions?

If the money is needed for her care immediately, I suppose I could see having this difficult conversation with her, but it seems as if it might even be more profitable if not more kind to simply wait.

Should the decision truly need to be made while she's still living and even just sometimes cognizant, it would likely be helpful and far more comfortable for all in the long run if you or your mom would talk to a counselor who has experience with elders and end-of-life scenarios to frame the conversation productively rather than just acting and then keeping it from her with redirection. She seems to still be emotionally invested and aware of her situation enough that it could be traumatic to have her agency so deprecated.

This is a really hard situation to be in and I really feel for all of you. End of life is so difficult for all affected. From the transitions I've witnessed, though, any gentleness toward the feelings of the person closer to leaving everything behind is ultimately more rewarding than trying to keep things crisp.
posted by batmonkey at 11:24 AM on October 11, 2012

STOP: Consult a Medicare /Medicaid planning expert. There are look back rules to be considered should Grammy ever need full time nursing home care, so any $$$ from the sale could be caught up in that mess should it happen. I have also heard that the house cannot be attached if the owner plans to return to the home. So even though it is not yet convenient for her to do so You should consult an expert before making any moves to sell or rent the house.
posted by Gungho at 11:29 AM on October 11, 2012 [21 favorites]

This is the reality of dementia, having just gone through this with my late father. You can't deal with your grandma the way you used to; if she were in a better mental state, you could probably have a frank conversation with her and convince her that selling is the best thing. But she's not in the right state for that. You can talk to her about it, upset her and yourself, and maybe convince her, but tomorrow you'll have to do it all again. There's no point in making everyone miserable over it; if your mom needs to sell it, she should go ahead. If that's too upsetting for her, she should wait until her mother is gone. But I really urge you to just try and keep things calm and pleasant for your grandmother and avoid fighting battles that don't need to be fought.

My father was talking up until his final bout with pneumonia about what he was going to do when he went home and asked us many times about the maintenance on his car so that he could drive it when he got out of the nursing home. We learned through hard experience to just say, "okay, we'll figure that out when the time comes." Distraction and a short attention span can work to your advantage here. I'm sorry, I know this sounds harsh, but it is so, so hard to love someone who has dementia and any coping skills you can develop to help you are so valuable. And, if you haven't yet, you might read "The 36-Hour Day," about dealing with dementia.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:32 AM on October 11, 2012

with the real estate market starting to brighten and my grandmother's health only declining, my mother and her siblings are ready to put the house on the market.

If your grandmother's health is declining, but has not yet declined, then what's the hurry? You don't say anything about needing the money or about maintenance being a hassle ... but if either are an issue, then a renter/caretaker arrangement could be worked out with a single professional. Win-win, and grandma doesn't have to feel like she's being shoved out on the ice floe.
posted by headnsouth at 11:44 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are attorneys and financial planner who deal only with these situations. It might be useful to pay for an hour of their time. They aren't cheap but they'll know any pitfalls and they'll give you some reassurances about how this is usually handled, since it will come up all the time.

As an extra wrinkle, you are your grandmother's fiduciary and it comes with legal responsibilities. They'll be able to help with identifying those, too.

Good luck, and lots of hugs!
posted by small_ruminant at 11:47 AM on October 11, 2012

My husband and I were in a similar situation, with his mother unwilling to sell her house after moving, pretty much against her will, to an assisted living center. The house was in terrible shape, overly cluttered, and unsafe for her to continue living in it, even with help. To overcome her unwillingness to sell, my husband agreed to fix the house and rent it for a undetermined time. This seems to have worked, so far: at least the house is not vacant. Could you rent it?
posted by francesca too at 11:48 AM on October 11, 2012

Sell Grandma's house. Take a picture of Grandma's house - with no real estate signs, or cars in the driveway. Assure her that her house is still there, show her the picture. You might update the picture for the change in seasons.
It sounds like grandma will never know the difference. The real problem is what to do with her stuff, the furniture, rugs, wall art, etc.
posted by Cranberry at 11:52 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

You do not want to let that house sit vacant indefinitely; insurers cast a very dim eye on that. A vacant house is also attractive to thieves and vandals. Renting? Hopefully you'll get a responsible person, but there's no guarantee of that.

Consult with an attorney who specializes in elder law (get a good recommendation!) and take their advice on Medicare/Medicaid and asset transfer. Assuming that the attorney agrees that selling the house is a good idea, put it on the market. You'll have a while to get rid of the stuff inside the house, most likely.

There are ways to protect the proceeds of the sale, BTW. Make sure to ask the attorney about that.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:59 AM on October 11, 2012

My MIL has a house on a piece of land that's been in the family since the state was settled in Daniel Boone's time. FIL built it over the years with scraps and stuff he bought as he could afford it. No permits, nothing up to code and the furnace was about 40 years old.

Husbunny broke it to me that we owned this palacial domicile and I broke out in a cold sweat envisioning how sued we'd be if anything happend on the property.

Thankfully, after about 5 years of going back and forth, "do we sell, am I ready to move? What if? What if?" MIL agreed that it would be best to sell the house to her beau (FIL died about 6 years ago) because the upkeep on it was just getting to be too much.

On Sunday we go up, and on Monday Husbunny signs it over and my long, national nightmare is over.

You're talking about it. Grammy is going back and forth about it. It may take her awhile to come to the decision to sell. No one is in a rush. Perhaps a relative can rent it super cheap while she's in assisted living?

Eventually, and in her own time, your Grammy will decide that she's ready to sell.

Do consult with an attorney about any Medicaid impact, but you just need to be patient.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:47 PM on October 11, 2012

Nthing that you probably can't get a decision to stay made on this. My Grandfather, who has dementia but was living at home with considerable support, numerous times said "That's it, I want to sell my house and move to a hostel", and got the family to drop everything and try to organise this, only for him to change his mind entirely and decide not to move. He even went to stay in the hostel briefly, and he was offered a permanent place there, but he turned it down, and then as soon as he returned to his home he called my uncle to say that he couldn't cope at home. We had to accept that he was just not capable of making decisions for himself anymore. And I suspect you grandmother won't ever accept that she's never going home - it's part of the lack of insight that goes along with the dementia. It's hard on the family, so try to support one another, and try to make her life as comfortable as it can be, within the boundaries of what YOU know is realistic.
posted by Cheese Monster at 4:40 PM on October 11, 2012

Who is the desire to sell coming from? Is it from you, or for her? Does she want to sell her house (sometimes) so she can move somewhere she can live alone/not in assisted living? What does selling the house mean to her? These are questions you need to answer and address if you want to move her along a path with them.
posted by corb at 1:34 AM on October 12, 2012

It seems extremely disrespectful to lie to your grandmother as many mefites are suggesting. Even if your grandmother doesn't find out the lie, YOU know you have lied, and is that really the sort of person you want to be? Someone who sells the property of an elderly relative and then lies to her face about it?

I'm nthing those who said that unless the money is urgently needed for her care, there is no harm in leaving HER house be until after she passes.
posted by parrot_person at 6:19 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Someone who sells the property of an elderly relative and then lies to her face about it?

As kindly as possible, this answer makes me wonder if you have any experience dealing with the really common issues of elders with dementia. If you think that's bad, try repeatedly telling your grandmother "I'm not Jane, Grandma; Jane is dead." and then watching her weep with fresh grief every single time. Quite often, honesty + dementia ≠ compassion.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:05 AM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

While that is true, there's lies and lies. I'll be the first to admit that when the elder in my family who suffers from this is in a bad way, I'll totally say, "Okay, I'll go get corb. Tromp tromp tromp, it is me, corb! That other woman has gone away!" Or, "Your sister isn't coming today, she's in X city" instead of "your sister is dead and buried in X city." But I would never sell a house without consent, it seems like the kind of awful thing I'd be terrified of happening to me later in life.
posted by corb at 1:14 AM on October 13, 2012

try repeatedly telling your grandmother "I'm not Jane, Grandma; Jane is dead."

Oh, please. What comes after the semicolon is unnecessarily cruel.

Selling this house is only compassionate if the money is urgently needed for the grandmother's care. I get a distinct impression that what is motivating many of these answers is not compassion but expediency.
posted by parrot_person at 5:47 AM on October 14, 2012

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