How to Start the Conversation

A helpful guide for navigating a tricky conversation around senior living

There are a handful of conversations we have at different phases of life that carry a stigma. Talking to an aged parent(s) about moving to a nursing home is definitely on that list. The fear of this conversation is understandable and may be keeping you from striking it up. But it is in everyone’s best interest to have the conversation, and have it with care. Here’s a guide of things to consider that may make this conversation much easier to approach.

 

Start the conversation early

Start it too early. Start it when it feels like it’s relevance is way down the line. This offers an opportunity to have the seed planted long before there is any threat of eventuality raising the emotion of the conversation. Find out what is important to them as a couple, as individuals, and for their family. This way, your parent(s) has the chance to freely share their wishes and you can be armed with that information when the right time comes.

Maybe they already have a specific location in mind! Inquire about waiting lists long before you need them so you’re not in the position of choosing a place based on availability when crisis strikes.

 

Assess the right time

At some point, the conversation about moving to assisted living becomes a necessity. This looks different for every family, but hopefully you’re able to make this decision a priority before there is a disaster at home.

One great way to identify the right time is to volunteer to come around the house for a project, something extensive like landscaping or cleaning the house, so you can see their range of motion and the state of the household. It will give you an idea of how your parents are faring with the upkeep of their residence while also laying a foundation of good will and trust that could be the opening for a future conversation.

 

Do your research

Having information prepared always makes a hard conversation less challenging. Hopefully you know your parents’ wishes, but even if you weren’t able to start the conversation early, you know your parents.

Do they want to be closer to family? Do they care about having access to a kitchen to make family favorites? Do they want to live in assisted or independent living? What is the future of their illness? Do they have a pet or furniture they want to bring along?

These are concerns they will raise when the conversation comes, so knowing what their options are that address these needs can be a real lifesaver when presenting the option of aged care.

 

Consider your language

Often times, family dynamics can be the hardest part of a conversation like this. Even your own assumption that this conversation will be hard can make the conversation hard. Enter into the conversation in a positive and helpful way. Ask questions about how your parent is doing. Present your concerns directly, but also offer a balanced amount of optimism about the benefits of the communities they might consider. Use your knowledge of what matters to them to frame these benefits.

This conversation could bring up a lot of feelings for your parent. Be sure to acknowledge whatever your parent communicates to you, whether positive or negative. People want to be heard, and not only will affirming their concerns let them know you understand them but it will also give you insight into what may be holding them back so you can help them overcome their objections.

And, perhaps most importantly, take it slow. You don’t have to make a decision in a day. This is a huge life change for you parent. Let it simmer for a bit to give them time to adjust.

 

Personalize it

Mention how much your friend’s mom loves the social aspect of her new home, or how you ran into the son of your parent’s old colleague who says his dad couldn’t be more thrilled about being off the hook for yard work.

If they don’t buy the anecdotes, take your parent to check out places out together! Sometimes seeing a senior community in person can dispel an unsavory preconception. Especially if you can take them somewhere where they already have friends! Seeing the a place up close can help your parents actually envision themselves there.

 

It’s their decision

As long as it is safely possible, this needs to be their decision and they need to know that you know that. If they’re not ready right away, offer other solutions that bridge the gap and buy them the time they need to adjust on their own. Gift them a cleaning service, update some safety features of their home, or organize home care.

Not forcing the issue and letting your parent decide will make you a safe sounding board for your parent as they processes this idea, but also will make their adjustment when they finally decide to move much smoother and happier.

You may be surprised to find out your parent is more amenable than you imagined, and giving them their own space to decide what their life will look like will make them feel even better about their decision to move forward into this next phase.

 

Bring in help

If it is getting dangerous at home and you aren’t making any headway, consider bringing in a friend, spiritual leader, or another trusted person to help have the conversation. The truth is, no matter how well intentioned, the adult children of aging parents aren’t always the best person for this conversation. Your road block isn’t the end of the road, often a third party can pave the way when you thought the conversation was going nowhere. Don’t take this personally, let the help you’ve enlisted move the conversation forward and you can focus on being a support system and maintaining your relationship with your family.

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