One of the hardest discussions an adult child can have with an aging parent involves moving into assisted living. Bringing up the topic of leaving behind a familiar home can trigger an avalanche of emotions ranging from denial to defensiveness to anger. With that in mind, if you feel the time is right to broach the subject, we found two resources to help open the doors for positive and productive communication on a touchy topic. First, this recently published article from the USNews website provides common sense tips on how make the conversation constructive and not confrontational. We also suggest this article on a website called AgingCare that offers helpful background information on assisted living.
Start the Assisted Living Discussion Early
“Talking to your parents about assisted living can be tough,” the AgingCare article observes. “Many seniors resist this transition, often because they feel they’re being forced out of their homes and losing their independence. Children and spouses avoid this complicated conversation as well, because they are unsure how their loved ones will react.” Sadly, the result of all this avoidance can be tragic: if neither parent nor child is courageous enough to discuss the situation, an aging parent might be left on his or her own too long, leading to injuries that can be life-threatening. The key, says the AgingCare article, is advance planning. “Being prepared before a crisis arises can remove some of the anxiety and uncertainty from the equation, making it easier for all involved.”
Five Strategies to Discuss Assisted Living to a Parent
The article in USNews lists five strategies experts recommend when it’s time to talk with a loved one about moving into assisted living. Let’s take a look and see if these prove helpful.
- Have the discussion as early as possible, preferably before a health crisis strikes. Instead of being “under the gun” with an imminent health problem that is forcing a quick decision, having a relaxed conversation about housing options takes away much of the fear, tension and resistance. Once you have a housing plan in place, says USNews, your mom or dad will most likely have greater confidence that their wishes will be respected.
- Look for an organic window of opportunity. Don’t just bring up the topic out of nowhere, says the article in Look for conversation triggers. Maybe your parent had a minor fall or other incident that is causing them to be concerned. Perhaps another friend or family member has faced a health crisis made worse by living alone. These logical connections can prompt the conversation about alternative housing options.
- Listen carefully to your loved one’s concerns. This isn’t the time for you to launch into your sales pitch about assisted living or try too hard to be persuasive. Your loved one’s fears about moving into any kind of senior housing, especially assisted living, are very real, experts told USNews, so don’t try to rationalize, minimize or dismiss them. Start by listening with real empathy and patience.
- Don’t issue orders. “Keep in mind, unless he or she is mentally incapacitated, your loved one gets to decide where and how to live,” the USNews article states. “Issuing orders or ultimatums attacks your loved one’s sense of agency and could make him or her feel dishonored and defensive.” It’s their life and they get to choose.
- Let your loved one see what assisted living looks like. Both the USNews and the AgingCare articles recommend that you do your homework and familiarize yourself with nearby facilities before you start the conversation with your loved one. Then encourage a tour of potential assisted living options and let the staff handle some of the questions your parent might raise. Once they see what a residence might look like and meet some of their possible future “neighbors” it might ease their anxieties.
Keep Things Comfortable
Both the article in AgingCare and the one in USNews echo the importance of taking things gradually, since the discussion about assisted living – or any other major move, for that matter – is a process, not an event. Start the conversation early, so your parent won’t feel their kids are ganging up on them or threatening their independence. “Have the conversation in a casual, comfortable spot, like at the kitchen table,” says AgingCare. “Start by saying, ‘I know this is hard to talk about, but I want to be sure that I honor your wishes. In order for me to do that, I need to know exactly what they are. We don’t have to decide anything today, but let’s just start the discussion, so we can keep this in mind and be better prepared for the future.’”
Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions suggests you also recognize that the biggest fear your parents have is that you will take away control from them. “They think your goal is to put them away in a care facility to keep them safe. You need to reassure them that your number one goal is their happiness, not just their safety.” Rajiv also strongly recommends families work with a care manager who can prepare a fully developed a plan of care that includes care at home, possibly aided by Medicaid or VA benefits. “Your job is to be there to support your parents, not strip them of their hopes and dreams,” says Rajiv. “No matter how well meaning the conversation coming out of your mouth as a child, the parent will only hear that they are being thrown out of their house. So don’t go it alone – bring in professional help, including a doctor, lawyer or financial planner.” One of the best things you can do, adds Rajiv, is to enlist the help of a care manager such as Better Care Management. Contact us at AgingOptions and we can refer you.
The “Housing Talk” is Part of a Bigger Picture
As we always remind our radio listeners and seminar guests, housing is a critical component of a good retirement plan, but it’s only a part of an overall strategy. You also need to prepare yourself financially so you don’t outlive your money. Then there’s medical insurance and everything that pertains to preserving your health and planning for long-term care. You need to protect yourself and your loved ones with a sound legal framework. Finally comes a step many retirees overlook: you need to communicate carefully with your family to make certain they understand your wishes and will support them. The only retirement planning tool we know of that does all this is a LifePlan from AgingOptions.
If you’re ready for a fresh approach to retirement planning, we invite you – along with parents, spouses and friends – to join Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions at a free LifePlanning Seminar, an information-packed few hours where many of your questions will be answered. Visit our Live Events page for a calendar of upcoming seminars, then register for the event of your choice. You’ll be very glad you did. Age on!