Talking to Your Parents About Assisted Living
Last updated in May 2019
If a relative is having trouble with daily tasks, forgetting to take medications, and struggling to maintain his or her home, it’s time to arrange for some help. But because most of us value our independence, it’s common for seniors to balk at the thought of bunking in a group setting.
Below are pointers on having these conversations. Our most important advice: Plan ahead. These decisions are not made well when rushed.
Chat when everyone is relaxed. Though Mom or Dad getting frailer or forgetful can be stressful, talking about assisted living when they or you are angry or anxious won’t make things easier. Bring up the issue during a calm time, perhaps after a nice meal or by making an appointment to discuss things.
Do it before things get dire. Begin a dialogue about assisted living before a move becomes imminent. If you make your loved one part of the decision, they will likely be more flexible.
Consider bringing in an expert. A geriatric care manager (aka “aging life care professional”), elder law attorney, or family therapist can ease everyone’s fears and help plan the transition. A trusted friend or clergy member may also be helpful.
Use “I,” not “you.” When discussing care options, express your own concerns and worries. Refrain from using “you” statements that might be perceived as accusations or failures. For example, try “I am worried, Dad. I think a little extra help and a social environment could really be valuable,” not, “You need help!”
Know this may not be a short dialogue. You probably wouldn’t buy a house, get married, or have a kid without a lot of thought, planning, and discussion. Moving into assisted living is also a big life change, and you may have to approach it gently, and more than once, before you find a solution.
Take tours. Seeing potential facilities and meeting staff and residents can reassure your loved one that a change might be needed or even desirable—and help allay anxiety.
Emphasize the living part. During discussions and tours, focus on the activities and amenities: meals, socializing, on-site assistance. Frame things as gains, not losses. Some assisted living facilities feel like college dorms (in a good way) for seniors, with lots of camaraderie.
Consider hiring an expert. Geriatric care managers (GCMs), also called “aging life care professionals” (ALCPs), can help with selecting a facility, planning, transition, and follow-up. Most have backgrounds in social work, nursing, or geriatric medicine, and specialize in advocating for older adults, with training that equips them to help plan, coordinate, monitor, and provide services to clients and their families. Area agencies on aging often have lists of local GCMs and ALCPs, as does the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) website, which lists its members.