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Tips for Talking to Aging Parents About Senior Living Choices

Considering senior living choices for your parents? Start with these tips when you need to talk about moving elderly parents out of their home.

How do you talk to your elderly parents about getting some help? Or whether they should move out of their home and into a retirement community or care facility? It’s not an easy conversation to have — but going about it the right way can help them live more safely and get more out of life.

Start with these tips when you need to talk to an aging parent about senior living, senior care, and the way forward for your family.

Preparing for the Conversation

Do your homework. Before you initiate the conversation about senior care, prepare yourself:

  • Create a list of your concerns for your aging parent. Are you worried, for example, that their home is no longer a safe environment for them? Are they having some health problems? Are they starting to have trouble with activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming, bathing or managing their medications? You may want to discuss your concerns with other family members to get their perspective as well. Write down all your observations.
  • Educate yourself. As you learn more about retirement communities and senior care options such as assisted living, you’ll have a better understanding of what will fit your aging parent best. Admitting just how much help your loved one needs isn’t easy, and you may find yourself downplaying just how serious their need for help really is. But be as objective as you can. You and your parents may have concerns about how communities handle emergencies and health issues such as outbreaks of flu or COVID-19. Most community websites have information about their safety protocols, and you can always call and ask.
  • Learn how important their living situation is for seniors. Where you live influences how well you live as you grow older — meaning location and environment have an effect on everything from physical safety to mental health to longevity. The more you learn about this, the better prepared you’ll be.

Exploring the options and learning more about successful aging can give you the confidence and credibility you need to begin this conversation. But exploring and learning doesn’t mean you’re making decisions about moving your elderly parents out of their home without the consent of your parent or aging family member. Instead, you’re preparing yourself to be as helpful as possible for the conversation and decisions ahead.

Tips for a Better Conversation About Senior Care

Once you learn more and feel you can confidently explain the options, following these tips can help you have a productive conversation:

  • Have the conversation as early as possible. Rather than waiting for a health crisis to force the issue, tackling this difficult decision early can help all of you reach a decision and start planning with much less pressure.
  • Talk in person, if possible. If you can be together to have a face-to-face conversation, great. If not, set up a video call so you can at least see each other during the discussion. Try to arrange a time when you and your parent are well rested and relaxed. Block out a time and a location where you can talk without interruption.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Your loved one may have anxieties, concerns and objections about moving from their home and into a retirement community. Don’t minimize those feelings. It’s important to acknowledge them and continue to ask questions so you can better understand their reservations. This will make it clear that you will respect their wishes.
  • Empathy, not sympathy. No older adult wants their adult child to feel sorry for them. But empathy is another matter. Your kind, calm voice and demeanor will show you care — and that you’re trying to understand the fears and frustrations they may feel. The idea of accepting in-home care or moving to assisted living is tough. You begin to help as soon as you really begin to listen.
  • Don’t rush. Once you’re armed with knowledge, you may feel ready to make a decision. But your parents may need more time. Allow them the time they need to find the words to express how they’re feeling. Coming to an unpressured mutual agreement now will continue to pay dividends as you move forward together.
  • Plan to talk again. And again. As much as you might want to wrap things up in one conversation, the reality is this will likely be a series of talks. Unless your aging family member is in imminent danger, that’s OK. It’s a process, not a once-and-done discussion.
  • Try to arrange a visit to a community. Whether in-person or virtual, one of the best ways to alleviate worries about moving is to show your loved one what a community is actually like. This lets them get an idea of the lifestyle, amenities, culture and type of neighbors they’re likely to have.
  • Remember, it’s their decision. Unless your elderly parents are mentally incapacitated, they get to decide whether to move out of their home and into a care facility of some kind. You have the responsibility of raising your concerns, out of love for them, but the ultimate decision belongs to them.

Conversation Starters

As with many difficult topics, beginning the discussion is often the hardest part. These conversation starters may help:

  • How is it living at home alone? Do you still feel safe? (You may want to mention specific safety concerns such as managing medications, falling on stairs, struggles in the bathtub or kitchen. Crime may be another fear they haven’t shared with you.)
  • Do you have a plan for long-term care? For example, if you fell or got sick and couldn’t take care of yourself at home, where would you go? How would you pay for it?
  • Do you feel lonely sometimes? Would you like to spend more time with people your own age?
  • How do you feel about driving? Would you be interested in other options for transportation so you don’t have to worry about getting where you need to go, car maintenance costs, traffic, parking, etc.?
  • Is it ever hard to manage your finances and keep up with paying your bills?
  • Ever wonder about getting a helping hand with housekeeping and laundry?
  • Would you feel less stress if you didn’t have to worry about the house?

Open-ended questions are the best way to encourage them to talk. Sit back and really listen to their answers.

Avoid Information Overload

Finally, beware the flood. Sharing a little basic information upfront can be helpful, but overloading the conversation with research and statistics is overwhelming. What’s worse, when people feel overwhelmed, they can get defensive. And defensiveness will end a conversation fast — and make it hard to resume later. Take your time and make this a journey of discovery and growth.

To help you navigate conversations about possibly moving your elderly parent out of their home, download this helpful guide.

And if you’d like to research senior living communities near you (or your parents), you can start by using this Community Locator tool.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.