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Talking to a Parent
Talking to a Parent or Elderly Loved One about Assisted Living

Your parents or loved ones are getting older and it can seem like a difficult task on either side to start a conversation about the tough issues. Ones like a Power of attorney, Wills and executors as well as care options such as assisted living. We don't have an all-encompassing solution on what to say, but we will try to offer some suggestions to make these types of discussions easier.

If you have a loved one and you have observed signs that it might be time to consider assisted living, the next step is crucial. The topic to "move to an assisted living community" is the hardest conversation to begin. It may result in conflict for family members, concerns of safety for the one you love, and eventually asking that person to give up a home filled with memories and comfort.

Remember that this is a difficult time for the person who can no longer live alone. The thought of leaving a home is disturbing, even depressing for them - and for you. Lives will change. Your loved one's' life, your life and even the siblings' lives change in such a move. It carries potential negative effects on relationships too, especially if some adult children are helping more than others. No adult child wants to admit that a parent - who provided life, nurturing and help for many years - cannot receive the same amount of care in return. It's an unbearable conversation to have with a loved one - period. However, it is not impossible and in most cases, a very much-needed situation to address.

In this resource, we cover how to bring up the topic of a potential move and how to convince your loved one it's the right decision.

How to Bring Up the Topic of Assisted Living

Before the conversation, it's wise for family members to learn how to manage conflict because inevitably, the talk of moving to an assisted living facility will bring up resistance. If you handle resistance, for you and the loved one, the conversations go smoothly with little stress.

Realize that conflict is normal and it prompts strong feelings. In this case, two conflicting needs are at the core: (1) adult child wants assurance the loved one is safe and secure, and (2) the relative needs to feel heard, respected and valued.

The needs of both parties are significant and each deserves consideration. If you know how to better handle conflict resolution before the talk, the relationship remains strong and respectful.

Few Tips on Healthy Responses to Conflict

  1. Recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person
  2. Remain calm, non-defensive, and respectful
  3. Forgive and forget, and to move past the conflict without holding resentments or anger
  4. Seek compromise and avoid punishing
  5. Face conflict head

What to Avoid: Unhealthy Responses

  1. Inability or unwillingness to recognize and respond to the things that matter to the other person
  2. Short-tempered, angry, hurtful, and resentful reactions
  3. Withholding love, rejection, isolation, shaming, and fear of abandonment
  4. Unwilling to compromise or see the other person's side
  5. Avoiding conflict altogether

Quick tips on Successful Conflict Management - Handling Emotions

  1. Remain alert and calm - opens ability to accurately read and interpret verbal and nonverbal communication
  2. Control emotions and behavior - lessens feelings of threat, fear, or punishment
  3. Pay close attention to feelings being expressed, including the words spoken
  4. Respect differences - avoid disrespectful words and actions

Sometimes the most important communication is without words. When you're in the middle of a conflict, pay close attention to the other person's nonverbal signals. When you focus on the other person, it builds trust and gets to the root of the problem. A calm tone of voice, a reassuring touch, or an interested or concerned facial expression can go a long way toward relaxing a tense exchange.

Understandably, families are eager to make decisions on behalf of the elderly member. As much as children do care about their welfare, they are too quick to "solve" the problem at a time and in a fashion that the parent is not really comfortable with.

How do you Convince a Loved One to Move?

Aging conversations on time to move

It starts with getting over your own fears if they're there. Unless your parents have been discussing end-of-life scenarios since you got your first job, you probably haven't had to think too much about the situation. Nothing is worse than treating a talk like a reverse birds-and-the-bees, hemming and hawing your way through things.

First, put the idea in their head - plant the seed - this helps open the lines of conversation. Allow your loved one ample time to mull it over. By taking a gentle approach, they don't feel you've made up their mind for them. Just mention that there are options that make life easier, safer, more fun, and independent.

Offer to go with them for a tour of assisted living facilities. Arrange to have lunch or at several of the centers. Consider attending a class or social function with the relative. Show off the social aspects of a good center. Don't push it. Let them feel they are in control.

Springboard from a time you remember that a loved one had a near miss in being hurt badly at home - like a fall.

Remind the relative that they would feel better and safer if more people were around. Don't over-dramatize your concern and worry about the near emergency.

Remain patient

It's hard to wait, but for the sake of the relationship, you may need to. Another good time to approach the relative about moving is on a day he/she reports being lonely and alone.

Check with your friends and friends of your parents. Is there a friend of the relative who lives happily in assisted living? Help them feel comfortable by finding a facility where there are people they know.

Take facility tours and ask your parent for input. Do they want big or small, new and modern or older and cozy?

When touring, point out how much privacy a resident gets. Help the relative have conversations around bringing furniture from home and how much room they want.

Take measuring tapes and visualize, demonstrate how the room(s) would look. Express enthusiasm for a move to a new apartment.

Discuss the Benefits

Discuss the safety aspects. Remind the relative that they will have more time socializing and less time (if any) cleaning and doing yard work. They have the choice to remain alone but have company when they desire it. Let the discussion sink in.

Ask a family friend or a church minister to talk with the relative. Third parties often can make headway when family fails. Always be sensitive to the relative's feelings and thoughts. Leaving a home where one lived with a life partner and raising children is emotionally very difficult.

Have the Discussion Now to Prepare for the Future

Having serious discussions about your parents care now can make things easier later on. If you're having trouble doing that, think back to your first job, and when you told your mom or dad about it. It seemed like there were a lot of options, but you also might have felt like that independence offered a myriad of ways that you could slip up. A lot of elderly parents feel the same way about wills and the prospect of an assisted living facility or other care.

So imagine what you would have wanted to hear about: your strengths, how to deal with your concerns and the fact that your parents would still offer support as best they were able as soon as you took the job. Those are the same points you are going to want to hit when you bring the end-of-life subject up.

Framing the discussion is important, too. If you generally only see them at bigger family gatherings, it may seem odd to schedule a visit out of the norm. But this isn't something you can do over the phone, nor should it be done while going over old photos that induce nostalgia and reinforce what they were once capable of accomplishing.

Have the conversation after dinner or over a cup of coffee. Tell your parent that you're thinking a couple of years ahead, and want to make sure that they retain control over their life no matter what. A power of attorney document, a will and all the other writings will help them do that. Ask them what they want to happen, who they want to take care of things. You can suggest ways of accomplishing it, but you know being the son or daughter that your focus is on helping them, not pointing them in the direction that's easiest for you.

In the End, it's Their Decision

To help identify the ideal choices for your loved one, you can contact our Senior Care Referral experts by calling toll-free 1-866-333-6002 to have an experienced referral expert discuss the ideal living situations in the area.

So take a deep breath, consult with everyone involved, find outside help, and anticipate that this will be a long and difficult path. Your parent's life has just changed dramatically, and so has yours. So approach this as a lifestyle change for you as well as for the parent, and try not to get frustrated, angry, or short-sighted when making these decisions, or living with them.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.