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How to Help Your Elderly Parents Move

If your parents are getting ready to relocate to a smaller home or a retirement community, they're about to make one of the biggest changes of their lives.

You may not be in a position to help with the heavy lifting, but there a number of ways to help make the process easier for them.

Be Respectful

One of the most important things you can do is to be respectful of what your parents are going through. "Adult children need to realize what a vulnerable position their parents are in when they move from their life-long home," says Nancy Pelham, a Dallas professional organizer and owner of Helping Hands Personal Service.

"They're having to let go of very meaningful things" -- not just possessions, but the home they're accustomed to, their friends and neighbors and perhaps their sense of independence.

Avoid being condescending. People tend to coddle the elderly, but "they're the same on the inside as everyone else," Pelham says.

Help Plan

Because relocating is such an emotionally-charged experience, it typically takes seniors longer than it would younger adults to sort through their possessions and decide what to keep and what to get rid of, so get started early.

Parents may need help organizing a garage sale or transporting items to charity or packing what's left. Once the move is over, they may need help cleaning and putting things away and settling into the new environment.

Be Patient

When an adult child helps an older parent move, there can be a lot of emotional baggage.

"Sometimes things get testy," says Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. "The adult child has a million other things (he or she) needs to be doing."

There may be competition among siblings for a piece of furniture or family heirlooms the parent is passing along, or resentment if one sibling feels another isn't helping enough. Try not to make the experience more difficult for your parents than it already is.
Use the Time to Reminisce

When an elderly person goes through closets and attics, going through things they haven't looked at in years, it's going to take longer than an adult child would like. Rather than rushing your parents, use the time to share stories and reminisce. It will help them.

Provide Emotional Support

It's important not to downplay your parents' feelings of sadness or anxiety about letting go of their old life. But it can be helpful to remind them of how much easier their life is going to be in the new place.

"Help them see why or how they will be benefiting," Pelham says, noting that a new home might have a more active social environment, or be easier for them to get around.

Your Next Move:

Allison Bisbey Colter is a freelance writer in New Jersey whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and American Banker. She is a former editor at TheStreet.com and a former reporter for Dow Jones Newswires.

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