13 Tips for Talking to Parents About Assisted Living

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

The concept and development of assisted living facilities has become a great asset for both aging adults and their families. Most assisted living communities have memory care units attached, and a few have independent living sections as well. The idea is to provide a safe and supportive living environment for older adults who need more care than can be provided in their homes.

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Resistance to moving to assisted living is remarkably strong among older adults, and much of it has to do with misconceptions about what it is actually like. But it is more complicated than that.

Talking with your parents about assisted living can go more smoothly if you are sensitive to the many feelings they have about the idea of moving. 

How to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Assisted Living

A good way to approach an aging parent refusing assisted living is to think about how you would like the idea if you were moving. With your parents going to assisted living, you are probably thinking about all of the benefits their being in assisted living will bring you. For example, you may be thinking already about less caregiving responsibilities, not worrying as much about safety, extra meals, laundry, and other tasks.

These are all valid benefits. But, if it was you that was being asked to move, imagine how you might feel. What does the idea bring up for you, what are you afraid of, and what would it mean for your life going forward? Now, follow our tips with this in mind.

1. Recognize your parent’s autonomy

As hard as it might be to accept, people have the right to make bad decisions. Recognizing this from the beginning will give you the emotional framework to approach conversations with acceptance. Remember, they have lived as adults for a very long time and it can be hard to give up that kind of independence.

You and your parents may not see things eye to eye. In fact, you may disagree vehemently about the need for assisted living. Hopefully, with enough time and respect, the two of you can reach an agreement about the need to make such a move.

2. Make assisted living their idea

Helping your parents, on the whole, is best done early with long-term care planning. Planning ahead involves discussing the important conditions that may trigger more intensive care should your parent’s needs increase. Talking about options and reaching tentative agreements about how and where they want more care before they need it will help when the time comes for a decision. 

Another approach is to explain the concerns you have about how they are doing. You could be an overwhelmed caregiver, or the professional care coming into the home is too complicated and expensive to manage.

Talk with your parents about options and possible solutions to the problems you are seeing. There might be some other senior living options to consider before assisted living. Having these discussions will empower your parents to feel as though they have some control over their situation.

3. Be honest and transparent

As tempting as it might be, try not to be devious or think that you can trick your parents into assisted living.

This approach could backfire and might damage your relationship. Being honest and transparent about what you see as the need for assisted living is a better approach. Yes, they may get mad, but it will likely be temporary.

4. You are still the child

Telling your parent what to do or suggesting that you know what is best can upset the parent-child dynamic that still exists regardless of how old you are.

Showing some deference to your parent and the fact that they get to make their own decisions will help in the discussions. 

5. Visit several assisted living communities

The only way to dispel myths about assisted living communities is to visit. Suggest to your parent that you arrange to visit two to three communities to see what they are like.

Talk with the admissions coordinator to arrange a tour and possibly lunch. Make sure that you discuss the activities calendar, as activities are a big part of the appeal of assisted living.  

6. Get siblings (or others) involved

Ask your siblings or other family members to get involved without making your parents feel like they are being ganged up on.

You don’t want to feel as though you are the only one who is fighting this battle. Even a family meeting might be helpful to discuss concerns and come up with a plan.

7. Manage your emotions

Your parent’s situation may seem urgent to you, but try to stay calm and positive. Your parent may not have the same view that you do and they may think they are doing just fine.

If you are angry or frustrated, this might make your parent defensive and more resistant. Take some deep breaths and try to approach the discussions calmly and clearly.

8. Have several conversations

Expect to have several conversations about assisted living as you ease into the topic. Give your parents some time to digest and process the information and the concerns that you have.

Make sure to be prepared for initial resistance, and try not to overreact if they get a little heated. Do your best to stay calm and remember, you can always come back another day to continue discussions after people have calmed down.

9. Take their concerns seriously

You may want to simply ask directly what your parent’s concerns are about assisted living. Once you know what those fears are, take them seriously. They may seem minor to you, but to a parent and aging adult, they can turn out to be the real driving force behind the resistance. One fear that may not come up in conversation is that to them, assisted living is one step towards dependence and a reminder of their mortality.

Once you know what their concerns are, address those. For example, if your parents are worried about what they can take with them to assisted living, reassure them that they can get a storage unit for items they may not be able to take. Though some items can be hard to let go of, even some sentimental items need to be let go of in this situation.

Also, remind them that there is a great deal of privacy in assisted living. They can always retreat to their apartment and only participate in what they choose. But, also emphasize the benefits: less household responsibility, more social interaction, loads of activities, and transportation. 

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How NOT to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Assisted Living

There are some “don’ts” when talking to your mother or father about assisted living. If you mistakenly venture into one of these areas, don’t worry; you can regroup and refocus your efforts. No one is perfect, so don’t be too hard on yourself, but keep these tips in mind and write them down if it will help!

10. Don’t tell your parent what to do

Keep in mind that you are not the boss of your parents, no matter how much they depend on you. Parents are not children, so it is important not to treat them like they are.

Asking questions is a much better approach, such as “what do you think about visiting a few assisted living communities in the next couple of weeks?” Not, “we are going to visit some assisted living communities this Friday.” The subtle difference is choice. Giving your parents a choice respects their autonomy and empowers them to make their own decisions.

11. Don’t be threatening

Threats are one thing, and the consequences are another. Threats are abusive in that they intend to inflict emotional pain. A better alternative is to explain the consequences of decisions in a kind and caring way.

The difference is the intention and tone. If your parent is resistant to assisted living, help them understand what that decision means in practical, real-life terms. 

12. Don’t give ultimatums

Giving ultimatums is like a threat. If you don’t do this, then I will do that. There may come a time, after a crisis, where you will be required to make decisions that your parent does not like. Painting a picture of choices is a better approach. Everyone believes that they can make decisions about their care until they end up in the hospital and are faced with hard choices. 

Assisted living may be the only viable option for safety and the level of care required. Saying something like, “if you don’t make a decision, I will never speak to you again,” is damaging and harmful. Again, consider explaining the consequences of any decision. This can be much easier in a hospital setting because you have health professionals who will have no problem making recommendations based on the patient’s safety.

13. Don’t abandon your parents

You may be mad, frustrated, and distraught, and it is normal to want to throw up your hands and walk away. Taking a break is healthy, but you won’t want to abandon your parents because you don’t like their decisions. That action is punitive and might be illegal. If you are the primary caregiver, you have a responsibility to continue that care or replace it with something else. 

In the meantime, don’t forget to take care of yourself. It can be emotionally draining and traumatic dealing with parents who refuse assisted living. Take care of yourself by focusing on your emotional and mental health throughout the process. Talk with someone else if necessary about your feelings.

Talking to Parents About Assisted Living

Talking with your parents about assisted living might be rocky. Plan for a series of conversations that is respectful and compassionate. In time you will all, hopefully, reach a decision based on mutual understanding.

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