Talk to your parents about assisted living


You never know what will prompt the conversation. Maybe it’s a fall, but not serious enough to require hospitalization. Maybe you discover they’re not taking their medication. Maybe they’re not eating well, or they’re not able to clean or keep the house like the used to. It can be almost anything – just something that makes you realize your aging loved one won’t be able to live alone forever. And then it’s time for “the talk.” No, not THAT talk. But the “birds and the bees” talk you had with your kids can be just as uncomfortable as the “we don’t think you can live alone anymore” talk you have with your parents. Taking the time to plan when to bring it up, what to say, and how to say it is important. Here are five things to keep in mind as you get ready to have this conversation.

  1. Have the Talk Before You Have to

Rushed decisions are not the best decisions. Amy Dickinson, Chicago Tribune’s Ask Amy columnist, has talked about her family’s experience, and wrote that she was grateful they had time to plan, “otherwise it’d be us standing in a hospital corridor trying to figure out where she should go.” If you can, let the conversation happen naturally when the family is all together. If you don’t put it off until it’s an emergency, this can be a more relaxed conversation.

  1. Educate Yourself First 

Don’t go into the conversation uninformed. If you know the options available for your loved one, that will help you make a decision together. Do research on different kinds of facilities in the area. Amy Goyer, AARP caregiving expert, recommended that you “understand all of the levels of care” before you make any decisions. Find out what kind of care your relative needs. Do they need the 24-hour medical care that a nursing home provides, or do they just need the help with daily activities that assisted living provides?

  1. Make Sure Siblings Are on the Same Page

 This decision can divide families. Try to discuss options and work out any disagreements in a separate conversation from the one with your loved one. A family fight will just cause more stress.

  1. Include Your Loved Ones in the Decision

Try to understand your loved one’s point of view. Moving to assisted living is a major life change, one that your loved one may not feel they’re ready for. Teri Dreher, president of Chicago’s NShore Patient Advocates, urged not to treat the conversation like a sales pitch or a demand. Acknowledge that this change affects the whole family and that you’re going to be there to help and support your loved one during the transition.

Listen to your loved one’s needs and wants. Is it important for them to stay in the same town they’ve always lived in, or would they consider moving to a place where other family lives? Do they have a pet that they want to bring with them? Understanding all of your loved one’s fears and anxieties and letting them be vocal about their concerns will help. Instead of picking a facility yourself – even if you think you’ve found the perfect place – let your loved one be a part of the decision by touring facilities with you. Ultimately, they have the right to make the decision about where they want to live.

  1. Bring in a Third Party

If you’ve tried to have the conversation, and your loved one has pushed back on moving to elder care, you may need to bring in a third party. This can be a doctor, a geriatrician, or even a faith leader like a pastor – someone your family respects and has your loved one’s best interests in mind. You can even ask your loved one’s doctor to recommend a social worker who can provide an expert view on the reality of your loved one living alone.

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