Maybe you’ve seen signs that your parent could use some help, like difficulty getting out of the car or even a fall. Or it could be that you’re concerned your parent is spending too much time at home alone. For some families, the approach and conversation around assisted living may take months, while for others the need is more urgent. Either way, it’s a difficult conversation to have. How do you tell your parent that you’d like to discuss the benefits of moving to an assisted living community?
Many people start by thinking of what they’ll say to their parent, or they anticipate the desired outcome of the conversation. But how you have this conversation is just as important as what you say. Don’t overwhelm your parent by bringing everyone in the family together for an initial conversation — instead, aim for a comfortable environment, and be prepared to listen.
“My biggest suggestion is to approach the conversation gently. This is a drastic change to a person’s life, so don’t discount their feelings,” says Erin Yelland, Interim Director at Kansas State University’s Center on Aging. “Be sure to listen to their thoughts, concerns, and emotions. It might even help to put yourself in their shoes — how would you like someone to have the conversation with you?”
Yelland also advises family members to listen to how their parent feels and consider why you think assisted living is the best choice.
“Sometimes circumstances present no other option than seeking support from a long-term care facility, but talking about other options first can be beneficial,” says Yelland.
Just as you’re asking your parent to consider assisted living, be prepared to consider what they want, too. Keep in mind that they’re the ones who would be making the change, and it’s likely an overwhelming time for them.
When talking to your parent about moving to assisted living, focus on bringing respect, empathy, and patience to the conversation.
You and your siblings or other family members may have several reasons for wanting your parent to move to assisted living. It may be helpful to make a list and then decide how to bring up your concerns.
If you have multiple concerns — such as how your parent is managing their medication, maintaining their home, and keeping up with personal hygiene — choose your top two or three concerns to bring up in an initial conversation.
You may hope to make your case right away for why assisted living is a good choice for your parent, but remember to be patient.
“This should absolutely not be a one-time conversation,” says Yelland. “Instead, talking about the transition several times can help ease your family member into it, rather than it seeming like it is being forced upon them.”
Each family is unique, but if at all possible, bring up assisted living well before your loved one needs it. It’s easier to have discussions about future care needs while your loved one is independent and in good health. You may even ask your parent how they’d like to be approached about the topic in the future if you have any concerns about their care needs or safety. Talking early allows you to think objectively about what their needs may look like if they become ill, have a fall, or even experience cognitive decline.
“Having these conversations early is so helpful,” says Yelland. “Don’t wait until disaster strikes.”
Knowing that you likely won’t come to a decision after one discussion, remember that it’s important to prioritize other aspects of the conversation when talking to your parent.
“A successful conversation is one where everyone’s thoughts, values, and opinions are actively respected. This is a life-changing event with immense impacts on one’s sense of independence — and that doesn’t always feel good. Another way a conversation may be considered successful is if there is a plan in place to talk again. Keeping the conversation going is critical to the transition,” says Yelland.
Yelland recommends checking in with your loved one throughout the process. Whether you’ve had one conversation or are already considering communities, it’s important to know how your parent is feeling.
“Ask questions that will show your respect for the emotional nature of this transition. ‘How are you feeling about this?’ Using affirming statements and acknowledging their feelings is critical. ‘This must be so hard, and we’re here to support you,’” Yelland suggests.
If you’re in a situation where many family members will want to weigh in on what’s best for your parent, it’s important to keep the focus on a civil, respectful conversation. Families have unique dynamics, and each person will have their own opinion.
“If the conversation begins to get out of hand and the individual is no longer the focus of the conversation,” Yelland explains, “I would recommend that the conversation be completely redirected or stopped to be revisited in a couple of days. Being sure everyone feels included in the decision-making process is the kind and respectful way of approaching this transition.”
Having a conversation with your siblings can also help you make sure everyone is on the same page and avoid any family disputes. Discussing assisted living with your parent will be much smoother if all the family members are in agreement.
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Explaining the benefits of assisted living only goes so far — for many seniors and their families, it’s important to see the benefits in person. Many families may feel torn about whether they should look at communities ahead of time or explore them together with their loved one.
Remember that even if you begin browsing communities on your own to get a sense of what your options are, you can still wait until your parent is ready before touring an assisted living community with them. Having an introductory knowledge of the communities in your area can also help when talking to your parent about why assisted living would be a good fit.
Many people think of assisted living and picture a nursing home where seniors need significant help with most tasks. However, assisted living communities today are quite vibrant. You can find a wide range of on- and off-site activities. Your parent can find a community with activities that cater to their interests, whether that involves a book club, fitness classes, or learning opportunities.
“The goal of assisted living is to create a sense of community while providing the necessary assistance that an individual needs in order to best maintain their independence,” Yelland says. “Talking to your loved one about these opportunities for engagement is a great idea, and may even excite them about the opportunities available to them in a more community-focused environment.”
Many communities can provide prospective residents with a sample social calendar, making it easy to compare social amenities. You may even schedule your tour during an activity that you know would appeal to your parent, so they can get a real sense of what their life would be like there.
Sometimes an accident or recent hospitalization moves up a family’s assisted living timeline. If you have safety concerns about a parent living alone, it’s important to voice them while staying as respectful as possible.
“Be honest with your family member,” says Yelland. “[You might] say something like, ‘I understand that your independence is so valuable to you, and we’d like to see you keep that independence in a community where you can receive a little extra help.’”
Yelland stresses that multiple conversations will probably still be needed, but within a shorter timeframe.
“Although having several conversations is important, keep in mind that they don’t have to be weeks apart if there is a sense of urgency. Make a plan to talk about it again in two or three days, which will give everyone time to process the transition and gather more information,” Yelland says.
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Everybody is different, and your parent may need to talk through the idea of moving to assisted living many times before they feel ready for this change.
“Remember that this may not be your decision to make and your loved one still has agency over their own life,” Yelland says.
If assisted living does seem like the best fit, you’ll need to consider your budget and which amenities are the most important to your parent. Searching for the right community can be time-consuming, but the Senior Living Advisors at A Place for Mom can offer their expertise. They’ll work with you to find a community within your location and budget, all at no cost to you.
Yelland, E. (2022, November 30). Personal communication [Personal email].
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