Resource Center / Senior Living Guides / The Insider's Guide: How to Talk to Your Parents About Assisted Living

The Insider's Guide: How to Talk to Your Parents About Assisted Living

We're taking a fresh look at and age-old topic: how we care for those who loved us first. Read on to find out what we learned from caregivers about how to talk to your parents about assisted living.

By Amanda Lambert Updated on Sep 23, 2023

How to talk to your parents about moving to assisted living

Ok, so it’s probably been a few decades since your parents had “the talk” with you. Yes, it was awkward, and yes, it made everyone uncomfortable, but you all got through it (more or less).

Fast forward 40 years (or more), and you might find yourself thinking about “the talk” again. Yet, "the talk" now has a different connotation. As your parent's age, you’ve probably struggled with how to talk to them about moving to a nursing home or an assisted living community.

While the subject is very different, the underlying dynamics are eerily similar; a struggle for independence, the desire to maintain autonomy, and the universal desire for personal agency.

We recently listened to an amazing discussion between a group of unpaid caregivers about how they approached the senior living "talk” with their own parents. 

While we have worked with and counseled thousands of families over the years on their transition to assisted living communities, we heard a fresh approach to how to talk to your parents about whether or not it's time for assisted living.

Using the “love languages” to talk to your parents about moving to assisted living for future care

By this point, most of us have heard of the Love Languages. Written by Gary Chapman in 2015, it was a New York Times Bestseller and dinner table conversation starter. 

Chapman posited that people don’t give and receive love in the same ways and that by recognizing someone else’s love language, you can connect with them on a deeper level.

While scientific research is mixed on the efficacy of the “love languages," there is a universal concept that underpins the philosophy: think about the values a person holds and speak to them through those values. Simple, right?

Most of us think about love languages as they relate to a romantic partner, but the concept can be applied to any relationship, even the ones with our parents. We spoke with Sandy Hunter, a personal coach, about this idea of love languages.

Sandy had “the talk” with her own parents over a year ago about looking at assisted living and retirement communities. That is, talking about their own health and their well being in conjunction with senior care.

She used the love languages as a way to focus on the positive: “Dad values quality time, so living in a retirement community in the same town as me means we'll get to see each other more regularly,” she shared.

“Mom's love language is acts of service. Offering to bring my parents to my town to tour independent living facilities or letting her know I will be available to help with doctor’s appointments and computer challenges - that spoke to her love language.”

And while it wasn’t easy, Sandy shared that it worked:

“I think this approach, plus a health scare, plus talking about their losses (memories in their own home, two social groups, sense of independence, their garden), and what they will gain (more opportunities to have friends their age, less traffic, no home maintenance, and seeing my husband and me more frequently) finally convinced them to move.”

Mom's love language is acts of service. Offering to bring my parents to my town to tour independent living facilities, or letting her know I will be available to help with doctor’s appointments and computer challenges - that spoke to her love language.

Sandy Hunter, Personal Coach

And while it wasn’t easy, Sandy shared that it worked: “I think this approach, plus a health scare, plus talking openly about the things they will be losing (memories in their current home, sense of independence, their garden), and what they will gain (more opportunities to have friends their age, less traffic, no home maintenance, and seeing my husband and me more frequently) finally convinced them to move.”

Why “Love Languages” works - even with your parents

Love languages honor and reinforce how we feel valued and cared for. We often do for others as we would want for ourselves. But the real power of expression and influence comes from giving others what they need and want.

Love languages are a way to emphasize the positive benefits of assisted living and memory care rather than focusing on your parent's deficits.

So, inspired by Sandy and all those who struggle with the discussion about moving to an assisted living facility, we’ve compiled a brief primer on using the "love languages" to make the discussion easier. 

Love Language 

What is is

How to use it with your parent 

Words of Affirmation 

Words of affirmation are verbal expressions of affection, encouragement, support, complementing, and being told that you are loved and appreciated. Words of affirmation make a person feel seen and appreciated.

Talk to your parents about their strengths, such as the ability to connect socially or help organize activities, and how those skills can benefit from being in assisted living.

Quality Time 

Quality time means doing things together with someone’s undivided attention. Eye contact, engagement, and interaction while together are vital to feeling understood and loved. Think of quality time as an activity or time where your focus is on the person you are with- without distractions.

Emphasize that assisted living allows your parents to be with family and friends as in a social capacity rather than as a care recipient. Frame assisted living as an opportunity to allow space for you to connect with your parents, not as their caregivers, but as family.

Physical Touch

Physical touch can entail intimacy, but it is much more than that. A hand on someone’s shoulder or a heartfelt hug expresses care and love. Physical touch, for many, is the path to a feeling of reassurance, especially during times of stress.

When you are talking with your parents about assisted living, and you know physical touch is one of their love languages, use it to convey empathy and understanding. Hold their hand or give them a hug while talking.

Acts of Service

Acts of service are infinite in possibility. From offering to help someone with a task to small gestures such as bringing someone their favorite food. For someone whose love language is acts of service, they appreciate assisting others as well as receiving those same gestures.

The potential for acts of service is boundless in assisted living. Volunteering, serving on the resident council, and participating in planned charity events are just a few. Frame the conversation in terms of what they can contribute to an assisted living community.

Receiving Gifts

For someone who uses and responds to this love language, gift-giving indicates love and affection. They treasure the gift itself and the time and effort the gift-giver put into it. People who enjoy receiving gifts as part of their primary love language do not necessarily expect large or expensive presents; it's more the effort and thoughtfulness behind the gift that counts.

For a parent who values gifts, do a little advance PR work. Reach out to the sales or marketing director and ask for a welcome sign during your tour, flowers or even a chef prepared meal during your visit to the community.

Wondering if it's time for the talk?

Take our 6 minute quiz

Moving to assisted living: a Seniorly Local Advisor weighs in

Catherine Shepard, a long-time Seniorly Local Advisor, has counseled hundreds of family members through the sometimes complex conversation about moving to senior living. Catherine says that love languages work because, above all, they exist in the framework of your parent’s identity. 

“It’s so important,” says Catherine, “that you don’t take your parent’s power away. They will view that as a loss of control. In the end, the decision to move to assisted living is theirs alone.” 

For family members navigating a truly complex senior living journey, a strained sibling relationship, or a parent who refuses to move but can’t take adequate care of themselves anymore, a professional senior advisor taking care of business can work wonders.

With vast experience in helping families navigate these conversations about assisted living and a deep knowledge of the local assisted living communities, Seniorly local advisors have the advantage of objectivity and can support the conversation in a respectful way for many families, residents, and all stakeholders.

What are the advantages of using a local advisor?

Some advantages of using a local advisor:

  • You can discuss your parent’s likes and dislikes, needs for daily living, preferences, and reasons for resistance. 
  • A local senior placement specialist can meet with your parents and offer information and guidance that may be more acceptable coming from them. 
  • After learning more about your parents, including their values or “love languages", a local advisor can offer ways to approach the conversation that highlights what is important to your parents. they can suggest an assisted living community that offers what's important to your parent.

Assisted living’s diverse activities and opportunities for social engagement can resonate with any of the five love languages. A local advisor knows each community in depth and can highlight the benefits of each.

5 tips for talking to your parents about moving to assisted living

If you’ve been wondering if it’s time to move your parent into an assisted living community, take our 6-minute quiz to get an assessment.  We know it can seem daunting, but there’s no time like the present.

If you think it’s time to have the talk with your parents and loved ones about moving to assisted living, here are Seniorly’s best advice:

  • Start the conversation early: The best time to talk about assisted living is before it becomes a pressing issue. Discussing this option early allows your parents to digest the idea slowly and reduces the pressure when the time does come.
  • Express your concerns honestly: Address the issue using "I" statements, such as "I am worried about your safety living alone". This helps to prevent your parents from feeling attacked or defensive, and emphasizes that you are coming from a place of concern.
  • Show empathy: Recognize your parents' emotions regarding the transition. It's a significant change in their lifestyle, and feelings of loss or fear are normal. Listen to their concerns, reassure them, and empathize with their feelings.
  • Highlight the benefits: Stress on benefits like round-the-clock care, health monitoring, nutritious meals, and reduced household tasks. Talk about increased social opportunities, various activities, and the availability of emergency help at all times. Think about what they value and what is important to them, and frame the conversation using those markers.
  • Involve them in the decision: This should be a collaborative process. Let them be part of the decision-making, including researching facilities, scheduling tours, and discussing finances. If your parent is not receptive, consider breaking the conversation into smaller, more manageable asks. Perhaps your starting point is looking at communities online, talking to a friend or family member who recently moved, or touring assisted living facilities. This will help them feel more in control and understood during the transition.

Discussing the transition to assisted living with your parents can be a challenging task. It's crucial to initiate the conversation early and honestly express your concerns. Emphasizing empathy is vital to understanding their feelings and anxiety about this life change. Additionally, highlighting the potential benefits of assisted living can help portray the positive aspects of such a move. However, the most crucial element is ensuring your parents feel involved and respected in the decision-making process, making the transition smoother for everyone involved.

Wondering if it’s time for "the talk"? : Take our quiz

And last but not least, five ways to start the talk

(so you don't have to call your best friend)

While your approach will be largely driven by what you know about your parent and your own conversational style, we know that the hardest part is often those first few words out.  To that end, we've shared some ways that other caregivers have started their conversations:

  • 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. How are they liking it so far? Have you visited them? 
  • I know that sometimes you’re feeling a bit lonely and that it’s getting harder and harder to get out.  I’ve heard that many senior living communities do a wonderful job with community events.  Would you like to go check out a couple of places together? 
  • I’m feeling more and more worried about you living here. Managing a house is a lot of extra work and I wonder if it might be time to consider moving to a place with less maintenance.
  • How are you doing? Really, how are you doing these days?
Need some extra help with your conversation? : Get FREE advice from a senior living advisor in your area
written by:

Amanda Lambert

Amanda Lambert writes for Seniorly on the topic of aging and environment.  The author of several books on aging, environment and eldercare, Ms. Lambert holds several certifications in the realm of care management and professional guardianship. She is a graduate of Boston University and holds a Masters degree from the University of Utah in Recreational Therapy. 

View other articles written by Amanda

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