“Don’t you dare think about putting me in an old-folks home!”
Sound familiar? For many families, what once was a joke at family gatherings when mom forgot to put the gravy on the table at Thanksgiving, has become one of the most difficult and serious conversations an adult child has with an aging parent who isn’t doing well living alone – and it’s left many at a loss for words.
Talking to your parent about assisted living isn’t easy—especially if they keep avoiding the conversation. Understanding why a parent dodges the conversation is the first step to finding a solution that gives you piece of mind, and your parent an environment where they can get the support they need. Here’s a closer look at five common fears parents have about assisted living.
Assisted Living Fear #1: They’re Scared of Change
When you’re young, change can be exciting. A new job in a new city is an adventure!
When you’re older, there’s a lot of change that’s happening — from how often you need to go to the bathroom, and how long it takes you to get there, to how quickly you recall your computer password — and most of it is out of your control.
For many older adults, the prospect of moving into an assisted living community can feel like just another change that brings more loss of control — and thinking about change and the unknown can be scary.
What to Do
If your parent is avoiding the assisted living conversation because they’re afraid of change, what seems like stubbornness might simply be a cry for understanding.
Now, they’re probably not going to come out and say, “I don’t want to lose my independence,” or “I’m tired of feeling like everything is out of my control.” But try to discern what their concerns are and address them honestly and thoughtfully.
Assisted Living Fear #2: They’re Scared They Won’t Fit In
Remember that feeling you had on the first day of middle school, the first day of college, or the first day of a new job? The nervousness, the awkwardness, the uncertainty: Will I like it? Will they like me? Will I fit in?
The desire to belong is a part of human nature. Many seniors worry that they won’t make friends in an assisted living community. If your parent says they’re not ready for assisted living yet, it’s possible that they’re feeling anxious about fitting in when they move to an unfamiliar place.
What to Do
Instead of letting move-in day be the first time your parent steps foot into the assisted living community, get them involved in the search, and have them visit the top communities for more than just a tour.
Most assisted living communities welcome prospective residents to join them for meals and activities. Go over the menu and activities calendar with your parent, and choose one or two events that you can enjoy together. You’ll both get a better idea of if the community reflects their style, interests, and personality — and they’ll feel more comfortable with the group as a whole.
Assisted Living Fear #3: They’re in Denial
When you see your parent having difficulty getting dressed, going grocery shopping, or doing laundry, you might assume they need help. But when you ask if you can lend a hand, they’re quick to respond that everything is OK and they’re just fine living on their own. They may even believe it.
Denial about aging is common. Maybe your once fiercely independent mom doesn’t want to admit she can no longer do many of the things she once did. Perhaps your dad is embarrassed because he needs help using the toilet or taking a shower — activities that are very personal and private.
Whether your parent is uncomfortable, embarrassed, or ashamed, they might resist you bringing up the topic of assisted living.
What to Do
First, understand that the process of getting them to accept help won’t be a quick one. Your loved one might not even be aware that they are in denial, so it is not a good idea to confront them initially.
Instead, take note of their behavior when they reject your attempts to help them. Try to figure out what they are really saying. Try to find the core reasoning at the heart of their concerns. If you can address what is really bothering them, then you can start to talk to them about how assisted living is sensitive to their needs.
But be careful not to come across as condescending or to act as if you’re the parent. These conversations are hard enough.
Assisted Living Fear #4: They’re Worried About the Cost of Assisted Living
Your parents have always loved you and cared for you — and now they’re worried about the cost of assisted living and if they’ll still have any more left to leave you (and your kids’ college fund). Parents will be parents, right? Even if your parents have set aside funds for long-term care, they might be worried that they won’t have enough.
But it’s hard to talk about money.
What to Do
Fortunately, assisted living is often much more affordable than you think. At communities that offer all-inclusive pricing, many of the expenses they are incurring now — not to mention 24-hour security services, three meals a day, housekeeping services, personal care, landscaping and home maintenance — are included in their monthly fee.
You may also help calm their concerns about money by going over their finances with them and exploring the different ways to pay for assisted living.
Assisted Living Fear #5: They Don’t Want to Downsize and Leave Memories Behind
To you, it may feel like a breath of fresh air to get rid of the things your parent has accumulated but the family no longer needs. To your parent, it can feel like they’re getting rid of items that are closely linked to their past and their memories.
Sorting through decades of family history and possessions, let alone moving from the family home to an assisted living community, can feel overwhelming — even paralyzing.
What to Do
Think of downsizing as a process, not an event. If you can, start this process six months to a year prior to moving to assisted living.
If there are some items that are particularly hard for your parents to decide what to do with, be patient. Ask for the story behind the object. This can be a nice opportunity for you both to talk about memories, reminisce about family activities or relatives, and to acknowledge your emotions.
Remind them that they can make a new home in their assisted living apartment. Communities encourage residents to bring whatever furnishings will make them feel comfortable in their new home.
If your dad has a favorite recliner for television watching or reading, there is room for the chair. If your mom has a grandfather clock that has been in the family for years, she can find a place for that, too.
Talking to your aging parent about moving to an assisted living community isn’t easy. It may never feel like the right time to have “The Talk” with your parent. But talking to them sooner rather than later ensures that their wants and needs will be met throughout their golden years.
For more insights into how to make assisted living conversations with a parent and siblings easier, download our eBook Having “The Talk” With Your Parent: It’s Time for Assisted Living.