5 Tips for Talking to Your Parents About Assisted Living

Starting the conversation with your parents about a lifestyle change can be challenging. Independence becomes a sensitive topic as we age, and not many of us are comfortable with the idea of assisted living, or even just a senior living community.

Where you may see an obvious problem that should and could be solved sooner rather than later, your parent is likely trying to maintain their sense of control and dignity that may give them a different perspective as they navigate the change ahead.

Stella Henry, author of The Eldercare Handbook, says, “This is probably one of the hardest decisions a child will ever have to make.” Henry, an eldercare expert, says many seniors “unrealistically believe they can take care of themselves for the rest of their lives.”

It’s critical for adult children to play a role in identifying potential issues, and work to proactively avoid crises down the road. Having this tough conversation with your parents now can save you a headache in the future if an accident or downward turn suddenly occurs.

But where to begin?

1. Know What You’re Talking About

First and foremost, do the research. This may seem like it goes without saying, but if you’re going to discuss senior living options with your parents, it’s important to become familiar with the various “care levels” of senior living and what each one entails. For example:

  1. Do you know the difference between assisted living and a nursing home?
  2. Do you know the definition of a Continuing Care Retirement Community?
  3. Do senior living communities in your area allow the opportunity for your parents to “age in place”?
  4. Is in-home care a better first step? What companies in your area offer this service?
  5. When is it actually time for assisted living? What are the warning signs to look out for?
  6. What services are included in senior living communities? What services cost extra?

There is a bevy of resources available online to do as much research as you need to before broaching the topic with your parents. A few we recommend are:

These websites have deep reserves of information you can plumb for as long as you need to prepare for the conversation.

Blogs can also be an excellent source of information, wisdom, and experience. The Judson Smart Living Blog is chock-full of helpful resources on the ins and outs of senior living, including topics like health and wellness, lifelong learning and retirement lifestyle. A few categories we recommend:

  • Health and Wellness – while the basic tenets of nutrition don’t change as we age, our bodies do, so it’s important to be aware of the distinct health challenges aging can pose and how to preempt them with healthy diets, different types of exercise, and constructive daily habits.
  • Adventures in Retirement – showcasing how moving to a senior living community doesn’t have the stigma it used to, this series highlights some of our community members who continue to do exciting things and go on trips more akin to Elderhostel than a retirement community.
  • For Adult Children – covering the key areas adult children should be familiar with when considering a potential move for their parents to a senior living community, this category includes FAQs, home safety tips and other valuable info to help you care for your aging parent.

And then, when you’re well-informed and ready to begin the conversation . . .

2. Begin Gently and Position Positively

If you launch right into the idea that they should think about moving into assisted living, you’re bound to get backlash from even the most open-minded parents. Start the conversation on a positive note, not even touching upon the idea of assisted living in the first few exchanges.

Instead, ask how they’re getting on with the house, what issues they may be having living by themselves, and how you can help. Ask them about their health and pay attention for things they may not be telling you because they don’t want to worry you.

Seek to understand your parent’s concerns. What is holding them back? What is important to them? Listen hard to what they tell you and try to identify common concerns or observations of change. If you agree on the problem but not yet on the solution, explore that further. What is it about the problem or solution that is causing the difference in opinion? Are there feelings or emotions that are getting in the way of change? Don’t underestimate the power of emotions that are expressed – too often it’s feelings about identity, life, or the unknown ahead that makes solutions hard to implement.

Caring.com has an excellent line-by-line guide for how to introduce this topic to your parents.

Bottom line: If they know your concern is coming from a positive place, they will be more open to the tougher conversations down the line, thus making those “tough” conversations not so tough after all.

3. Start the Conversation Early (and Have it Somewhat Regularly)

It’s important to broach this topic sooner rather than later to gauge their level of comfort with it, but more importantly, to make the concept familiar so if a move to assisted living becomes necessary later in life, it’s not such a psychological transition.

If you wait until after an accident or a health problem, you’re facing an uphill battle. At that point your parent will already be uncomfortable and likely feeling vulnerable, so it’s important for the impending conversation to feel familiar to them (chances are, after the accident or health issue they were already thinking about it way more than you were, anyway!).

Also be sure that when you start the conversation early, allow it to progress naturally and bring it up on a somewhat regular basis. We’re not saying every time you get together, or even every year at Christmas, but regular enough to make it a comfortable topic of conversation to bring up effortlessly in the future, if and when the need for it arises. Use the cues we provided above to guide you, and don’t make the conversation necessarily about assisted living, but rather how your parents are getting on by themselves.

4. Get All Siblings on the Same Page

To those of you with difficult siblings, talking with them can sometimes be more difficult than talking with the parents! We kid, of course, but it should be emphasized that having all the siblings on the same page and all coming from the same place of gentle concern and love can go a long way toward easing a potential transition.

Speak to your siblings first, discuss the research you’ve done thus far, gather their opinions, and come to an agreement about how you want to approach the topic with your parents.

5. Remember: Ultimately It’s Not Your Choice

If your parents are of sound mind but in disagreement with you, all you can do is support them in their decision and stay open-minded. This is ultimately their decision, not yours, so trying to force your opinion or point of view on them will only end badly – for all parties involved.

Patience and understanding will go a long way in this discussion, serving to both preserve your relationship and achieve a mutually desirable result for both you and your parents.

We all want to maintain control and a sense of dignity as we age, regardless of the conditions that beset us. Keep this and the above tips in mind when you begin the conversation with your parents and you’re off to a good start.

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