Approximately one million Americans live in some type of senior living community. With that number expected to double by 2030, more families than ever are facing one of the most difficult conversations of their lives - the talk with an aging parent about elder care, assisted living or a skilled nursing facility.
Unfortunately, many delay this conversation until an accident or medical crisis suddenly creates a need for a higher level of care. Making such an important decision while emotional and under pressure may prevent you from making an informed placement in the right community. Discussing senior living well before it’s needed will help alleviate some of the stress and negative emotions, allow you to find out what a loved one’s wishes are, and help you to find the best possible placement for them.
Not sure where to start? Follow the tips below for a collaborative discussion about long-term care instead of one that is riddled with guilt, resentment, frustration or fear.
1 First, remember you do not have to do it all at once. Make small inroads before you actually sit down for the big talk. You can start by asking what life is like at home for your loved one. Do they want help with housekeeping, laundry, running errands or other daily chores? Do they feel lonely and miss an active social schedule? Inquire about challenges they might be having now, such as vision and fine motor skills, and offer short-term solutions. Consider installing extra handrails, ramps and an emergency alarm, until a permanent decision about future elder care is made. Ask open-ended questions that allow your parent to bring up any issues they may be experiencing and listen. If at-home care is hired, plan how you will monitor for safety, security and emotional well-being.
2 When you’re ready to broach the topic of senior living, do your homework first and research all available options to determine best fit for your loved one. Make time for an in-person conversation and present your concerns and the options without overwhelming your parent. Use positive language to describe senior living options, such as ‘assisted living community’ and ‘retirement-style living’ instead of ‘facility’ or ‘nursing home.’ Highlight the activities, amenities and social life rather than the personal care.
If both your parents are still alive and together, ask what they would like to happen if one of them passes away. While this can be difficult, it will help you understand your parents’ wishes for each other and reveal what they have already discussed between themselves. Presumably, they would want each other to be well-cared for and safe. Ask for suggestions on how you can help ensure these things happen.
3 Involving a third party is another strategy to remove feelings of guilt and resentment from the conversation. For example, if your loved one is suffering from a chronic condition, involve the family doctor to understand the progression and discuss what new care needs your parent might have 12 or 18 months from now. Plant the seed now and discuss various options. If possible, tour select communities now and show you intend to keep your parent involved throughout the process. Loss of independence and control often contributes to seniors’ reluctance to consider senior living options and may introduce periods of depression and anxiety. A tour and visit with a trained, experienced admissions counselor can help educate and reassure your loved one and relieve you of the burden of being the only messenger.
4 Finally, don’t expect to make a fast decision. You may be informed and ready, but your mom or dad might need time to digest the information. Plan to have this conversation again. And again.