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How to Talk to Your Parents About Assisted Living

Discover helpful suggestions for talking to your parents about assisted living with Seniorly.

By Seniorly Editor · Updated Jun 23, 2022
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Assisted Living: Having the talk with your aging parents

As your parents grow older, there may come a time when they’ll need a little extra help to enjoy life to its fullest. Acknowledging that a parent needs some assistance can be difficult for both of you. Bringing up an assisted living community can be a tough conversation, especially when you’re not sure how your loved one will react. Although you may want to avoid having this talk with your parents, it’s important to discuss options and be prepared before a crisis occurs that requires a quick decision.

It is important to have these conversations about your loved ones' safety, well-being, health, long-term care, as well as their wishes for medical treatment, financial decisions and care plan. Be proactive about talking with your loved ones and use the following tips to tackle this subject compassionately.

Start by doing your homework before you say anything

Before you begin the conversation, make sure you take the time to become informed on the topic yourself, researching potential solutions. This difficult conversation can be made easier if you understand the differences between assisted living and skilled nursing or assisted living and independent living. If not, it’s time to learn everything you can. Gather the facts on available options, observe the types of difficulties your parent is having, and then you’ll be able to help in an informed, calm way when it’s time to have the conversation. If assisted living is a good fit for your parent, you may even want to check out a few local options yourself so you have some concrete examples of what’s available. Even if you live in a different area, you can read reviews on options close to your parents or consult with a local expert for more information.

Look for a good opening for the conversation

Once you’re prepared for the conversation, look for a good opening to take the plunge. The best time to begin a serious discussion is when your parent brings up a problem and asks for some help. If you don’t get that opening, try to find an opportunity when everyone is feeling relaxed. Try saying something like:

  • I noticed that you’re having difficulty with the steps and nearly fell. Is this a problem you’re having often?
  • Your friends Jack and Jenny recently sold their home and moved to a retirement community, and they are raving about having no more household chores and yard work now.
  • I know that sometimes you’re feeling a bit lonely and I’ve heard that people often do better when they have a lot of activities to enjoy with others.

Communicate that they are in charge of making the decision

Remember, if your parents feel that they are losing control of their lives or you are trying to make their decisions for them, the conversation may go poorly. The decision-making process must include them. This means that it’s crucial for parents to feel that they are in charge of making the final decision about where they live and the type of senior care they receive. Communicate to your parents that you want them to make the right choice for their needs and that you are there to help them. You can encourage them to tour assisted living communities with you or go visit some relatives or friends who have already made similar moves. Once they have gone on a few tours they may be more open to talking about living in a senior living community. 

Keep things positive and show how their lives will become easier

As you present the idea of assisted living, make sure you use positive tone and language. Often using the word “community” instead of “facility” and the phrase “apartment-style living” instead of “rooms” can sound more positive and welcoming to your parents. Instead of highlighting the assistance with daily living, focus your conversation around the amenities, social opportunities and activities available in their new senior housing.

Giving examples of how their daily lives will become easier can help too. You can talk about how they’ll no longer need to take care of yard work. If cooking has become a chore, discuss how they’ll have access to meals. Discuss how much more time they’ll have to enjoy their quality of life when they don’t need to worry about housekeeping or other daily chores anymore.

Ask about their concerns and offer reassurance

Don’t just have a one-way conversation. Make sure you get your parents involved in the discussion by asking about their concerns. Your parents may be worried that family members won’t come to visit as often if they live in an assisted living facility or they might be worried about not getting to see their adult children or grandchildren on a regular basis. Health care and personal care are also very large concerns for most  elderly parents. Make sure all of their questions are answered and be prepared to answer their questions and offer reassurance. Sometimes just knowing that you have their best interest in mind and you’ll be there to visit and help them through the transition can give them peace of mind.

Don’t push for a decision right away

After you’ve had the initial conversation, don’t push for a decision from your parent right away. No one wants to feel forced into a quick decision. Give your parent some time to think about the conversation and their care options. Then when they bring up any part of the discussion, use this time to revisit the topic in a supportive manner. Offer some positive comments or if your parent brings up a concern, try to go over the facts and solutions with your parent again. If some time goes by and your loved one hasn’t brought up the conversation, try bringing up the issue again in a non-threatening way to see where things stand.

Keep in mind that significant transitions like moving from home to an assisted living community will involve an ongoing dialogue. Don’t expect your parent to make up their mind overnight. Although that initial conversation may be tough, it’s probably only the first of several talks you’ll have as you work with your parent to come to a solution that everyone feels comfortable with. Even if you become worried or frustrated, remain supportive and upbeat so your parent continues to see you as a helpful, compassionate sounding board as they move towards their senior living options.

This piece is part of our Healthy Aging Handbook, read the next one to learn more about helping aging parents: Assisted Living Checklist: Questions to Ask On Your Tour
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