One of the toughest aspects of seeing your parents age is having to prepare for a time when they may need to move out of their home. If you're wondering how to talk to parents about assisted living, you're not alone. Many adult children hesitate to bring up the topic out of fear of getting a defensive or prickly response from an aging parent who might be worried about losing their independence.
While discussing the possibility of moving Mom or Dad to an assisted living facility might feel overwhelming, there are several things you can do to help these conversations go smoothly. Keep the following advice in mind when you're considering how to talk to parents about assisted living.
Be Careful About Phrasing
There are a number of reasons why the term "assisted living" might make your parents concerned. The word "assisted" could be a reminder of the fact that their lives and faculties are changing, and it could also be an unpleasant reminder of their age or mortality. Using this terminology might even shut down a conversation before it can start.
That's why it's a good idea to choose your words carefully. For instance, the term "retirement community" is not only more accurate than assisted living (since the majority of such facilities are geared toward community activities), but it can also alleviate your parents' fears of losing their independence.
Have Several Conversations
The discussion with your parents about assisted living shouldn't be limited to a single conversation. Start by planting the seeds — for example, it might make sense to approach the subject if a parent has been talking about how difficult it is for them to accomplish tasks around the house or if they've suffered an injury. Simply laying the groundwork for an ongoing discussion about how their lives could be both easier and more enjoyable in a supportive environment can help them think through their options ahead of time.
This is the sort of decision that needs to be thoughtfully planned, and waiting until it's absolutely necessary won't make it any easier. Talking about your parents' options in an open and non-rushed way can facilitate constructive conversations that result in less stress.
Take Some Tours
One of the reasons why Mom and Dad may feel hesitant about assisted living is that they might have an outdated view of what these facilities look like. If they are imagining a nursing home with pajama-clad octogenarians being fed applesauce, you may be able to relieve some of their anxiety by touring actual facilities in your area.
By doing so, you can show them the kind of environment and activities that retirement communities have to offer. Parents may even start to feel excited about the prospect of maintenance-free living in the company of their peers, with whom they can socialize, exercise and enjoy planned activities.
Nervousness about living in a retirement community often comes from not knowing what to expect, so consider taking your parents on some tours of retirement communities to help mollify a number of their fears.
Ask About Their Concerns
While touring facilities can help allay your parents worries about what assisted living looks like, they may still have other concerns about the transition. Even if the community they are joining offers them opportunities to make friends and enjoy their independence, there will be aspects of home that they will miss.
Ask your parents what their concerns are. If they're worried about seeing you or their grandchildren less after the move, you can reassure them that you'll continue to be a regular part of their lives. They might also be concerned about what possessions they can bring with them to their new home. You can set their mind at ease by letting them know that they can bring their favorite items with them and that you'll help them figure out what to bring.
Acknowledging your parents' concerns about this major change can help them feel more comfortable about making the transition. By letting them talk about their fears, you can give them the opportunity to work through those fears with you.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
You want what's best for your parents, which is one of the reasons why talking to them about assisted living can be so difficult. Your goal is for them to enjoy their retirement years in comfort and safety, and facing a stubborn refusal to discuss the issue can be incredibly frustrating.
In these cases, it can be helpful to take the time to imagine how your parents must feel in order to lower the temperature of your conversations. Remember that your parents are not simply being stubborn — they are facing a potentially scary transition into a new way of living. How would you feel in that position, particularly if you felt that the people you loved most were giving you no choice in the matter?
Putting yourself in your parents' shoes before and during your conversations can help you recognize and understand the real fears behind any reluctance they may be exhibiting and prevent these conversations from becoming exercises in head butting.
Offer Other Options
Approaching your parents with an assisted living brochure in hand and acting as if the decision has already been made for them is a sure way to derail the conversation. No one likes to feel out of control of their own life, so even if you are certain that assisted living is the best option for your parents, make sure you open up the discussion to other possibilities that could get them the assistance they need.
For instance, would in-home nursing, a daily helper to handle housekeeping and meal preparation, the addition of an emergency alarm, or remodeling for accessibility be enough to ensure your parents' safety if they decided to stay at home and age in place? Discussing the pros, cons and costs of each option can help you and your parents come to the right decision together.
Know When to Push the Issue
While involving your parents in the decision is absolutely the ideal scenario, you may not have as much of a choice if their health or safety would be at risk if they stayed at home. If their home poses a safety hazard, you don't feel like you can provide as much support as a caregiver, or your parents have shown they are unable to continue managing daily living tasks, you will need to be firmer on this issue in your conversations.
Talking confidently and often about your parents' assisted living options — while remaining mindful of your phrasing and their real concerns — can help you get them into a safe environment where they can thrive.
Have Constructive Discussions About Assisted Living for Parents
Seeing the changes that parents go through as they grow older can be tough for an adult child. You want what's best for them, even if it conflicts with what they want for their golden years or how they view themselves.
Assisted living can be a delicate topic, so it's wise to be careful with how you refer to the communities you're hoping they will call home. Instead of tip-toeing around the subject or making unilateral decisions, approach the topic with Mom and Dad early and often. Talking about assisted living before your parents need it can help them view these discussions as non-confrontational and non-threatening. Touring local communities can help them see the benefits of a move, and talking to them about their concerns can help you reassure them that the most important parts of their lives don't have to change.
Throughout the process, try to imagine what it's like for your parents, and include them in any decisions as much as possible. However, remember that there may come a time when you will have to push the issue.
Helping your parents transition to assisted living is hardly an easy task, but approaching the process with love and compassion can make the situation less stressful and more constructive for everyone.