You may break out in a sweat at the very thought of discussing senior living with your parents. But even if they are fiercely independent, avoiding this emotionally loaded topic is not in anyone’s best interests, especially if their health is on the wane. Resources for families who need guidance through these difficult conversations can be hard to find. With that in mind, we’ve come up this guide to help you talk to your parents about senior living options.
Assess the situation
If you are not entirely clear about your parents’ situation, the best first step is to ask them how they are making out on a daily basis. Ask open-ended questions to assess their situation. For instance, you might enquire what issues they are having with cooking, or what their plan is if Dad falls and cannot get up. Remember to be gentle and not accusatory or demanding. Also, use your powers of observation. Is the fridge well-stocked, or are Mom and Dad eating out a lot? Does Mom seem to repeat the same question over and over? Do your parents appear worried or concerned? Are letters, dishes, or dust piling up in ways they never did before? All of these may be warning signs that your parents are losing their ability to manage in the way that they previously did.
Talk early and often
Ideally, the best time to talk about senior living options is while your parents are still healthy enough to look after themselves. If you wait too long you and your family may be forced to make life-changing decisions when one or both your parents are in the midst of a health crisis. Also, realize that you’re probably not going to get everything resolved in one talk – you will likely have to bring up the subject again and again. Be patient and kind. Your intentions are good, but how would you feel if someone were asking you to consider leaving your home behind for something new and unknown?
Present a united front
Unless you are an only child or your siblings live far away, this is one conversation that you don’t want to go into alone. As much as possible, include all members of the family in any care discussions or decisions so that you can come up with a united game plan. You need to be sure that you all see eye to eye on the important issues so that your parents are not getting mixed messages.
Be sensitive and diplomatic
When you sit around the family table, avoid making ultimatums, instead asking your parents for their say, listening respectfully to any fears they may bring up. You may want to ask open-ended questions to get a sense of their blocks, so you can address them later on. And try to stand back and look at matters from your parents’ point-of-view. They may feel vulnerable and scared, like they’re losing control. Remember: this is sensitive territory, so be gentle, and validate rather than deny your loved one's feelings.
It’s also crucial that you avoid critical or judgmental language. Instead of suggesting that your parents are incapable of looking after themselves, state your concerns simply and in terms of your own fears and feelings, not theirs. For example, you might say something like: “I’m feeling concerned that you won’t be able to get around if we have another snowy winter.”
Pick your timing
In addition, since it’s hard to come across as emphatic if you’re feeling agitated, delay any conversations if you feel particularly stressed about your parent’s well-being. It will be easier to hear each other out when both you and your parents are relaxed. Don’t surprise them by springing a difficult conversation on them without warning, or tricking them into it when they are not prepared. These tactics are likely to backfire.
Focus on the benefits
Take care to emphasize the advantages of senior living without going overboard. For instance, if your parents feel isolated because they don’t drive as much, point out the social and recreational opportunities available at a senior living community. Consider the benefits that will be truly meaningful to them; for instance, if they are tired of cooking every day, don’t forget to mention that they won't have to worry about cooking anymore as all meals will be taken care of.
Explain the consequences
If you’ve had several conversations and your parents are still convinced they can manage on their own, calmly remind them that the aging process will make things progressively more difficult even if they are not ready right this minute. For instance, you could point out that another fall could lead to a head injury or broken bones, resulting in hospitalization and reduced mobility and independence. It may not be imminent now but it is better to prepare before a crisis than wait and react when there is no time to discuss, comparison shop, or do research.
Propose a trial run
Your parents may not be aware that many senior living communities offer 5-to-30 day trials so that seniors can test out whether the community is right for them. This option might be a way to ease your parents into the idea of senior living and give your entire family an opportunity to explore these new possibilities.
If none of these approaches work and you are genuinely worried about your folks, think about calling on others for support, such as a trusted family friend, an uncle or aunt, a family doctor, caseworker, or a member of the clergy.
Remember, there’s no guarantee that your parents will ever be on-board with moving to senior living, but if you follow the above tips you’re likely to see better results than charging blindly into a heated conversation.