It’s never easy seeing a parent increasingly need help to manage things they used to be able to manage on their own. You might have noticed that your parent’s house is unusually dirty, that your dad isn’t eating as well as he used to, or that your mom is missing doses of her medications. It’s not easy approaching this type of conversation with a parent who once was responsible for caring for you. In fact, that’s why so many adult children avoid having the “assisted living talk” with their parents at all. But, letting a health crisis set the stage for this type of conversation can leave you making important life decisions under pressure and emotional stress, or worse, leave you guessing what your parent’s wishes are depending on the extent of the crisis.
Reason #1: You’re in denial your parent needs more help
If you find yourself rationalizing your parents behavior – such as sleeping in a recliner instead of upstairs in their bedroom, or you find yourself feeling “stuck” in life because it revolves around caring for your parent while trying to support your own family, you might be in denial.
You’re not alone – denial is a mechanism. Simply being aware that you’re in denial is an important step in moving forward. Spend some time reflecting. What was life like when your parent first started needing some help? How has it changed since then? Take some time to process why you might be avoiding the thought of additional help. Does the thought of your parent in an assisted living community make you feel guilty? Does it worry you that more help means they’ll continue to decline? Although these myths are common, they’re just that—myths. Assisted living can actually provide an environment for your parent to be less dependent than they are now, with the right kind of support in place and an environment specifically tailored to the struggles your parent might be encountering living at home.
Keep in mind, “if you’re just praying nothing happens, when it does, it’s really hard not to feel guilty,” says Sondra Jones, Chief Marketing Officer for The Arbors.
Instead of waiting until there is a crisis, look for these signs it’s time for assisted living:
- Needs help with activities of daily living
- Has chronic medical conditions
- Experiences noticeable changes in weight
- Relies on family or friends for errands and goes days without leaving the house
- Has fallen recently
- Needs more than 10 hours of home care
In many cases, moving to assisted living might be the best way to keep your parent safe, healthy, and, ultimately, happy. “They have a helpful guiding hand when they need it, and families have peace of mind that the hand is there — and it doesn’t have to be theirs,” says Jonathan Athanas, Executive Director of The Arbors at Dracut.
Reason #2: You want to avoid conflict with your parent
Does your dad insist that he’s “fine on his own”? Is your mom adamant about not leaving the house your dad built for her 60 years ago?
No matter how you approach the subject, your parent is likely to have objections to assisted living. Anger, frustration, and hostility are normal emotions, initially, when a parent feels that they are giving up their independence and leaving the comfort of a long-time home.
Avoid telling your parent what they should do, and instead see if you can convince your parent to simply be open to thinking about it. Make sure your parent feels like they have input and be prepared to answer some of the initial questions they may have when you ask, “have you ever considered an apartment complex where they have care staff on site?”
There’s no way to predict how your loved one will react to initial conversations about assisted living, but if you start the conversation by focusing on your parent’s wants and needs, you might have better luck. These conversation starters may help:
- Do you feel lonely sometimes? Would you like to spend more time with people your own age?
- How is it living at home alone? Do you still feel safe?
- Would you feel less stress if you didn’t have to worry about the house?
- Ever wonder about getting a helping hand with housekeeping and laundry?
- 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.?
Try to remember that this isn’t just your decision to make. Your parent has feelings, too. Be patient, and understand that these conversations may take longer than expected.
Reason #3: You don’t feel like you have support from your siblings
43% of caregivers report receiving no help from their siblings, which can lead to conflict when trying to mention that your parent needs more help. If they haven’t experienced the impact a health decline has had first-hand, it can leave you frustrated that they don’t see the value in considering assisted living.
Simply waiting for your siblings to come around could put your parent in danger of a crisis.
It’s likely that your siblings don’t understand what your parent is going through, what they need now and in the future, and how quickly caregiving responsibilities can grow from running a few errands each week into a full-time job.
“That’s why it’s so important to keep them updated with what’s going on and to get everyone on the same page,” Jones says. “When something happens, tell your siblings, ‘We need to get together and talk about the next step.’”
A family meeting offers opportunities for:
- Your parents to share their wants and needs
- You to clarify your parents’ needs and explain all you do
- Your other siblings a chance to learn about the situation, participate in care decisions, and brainstorm how they can pitch in
As your sibling comes to terms with what your parent needs, they can help your parent — and you — plan and participate in the future.
Reason #4: You are waiting for them to bring it up
More than 90 percent of people say that talking with their loved ones about care wishes is important — but only 32 percent have actually done so. Maybe your dad is embarrassed about needing help using the toilet or taking a shower. Or perhaps your mom doesn’t want to bother you for a ride to the grocery store when she knows you’re busy with your own family.
From being in denial to worrying about “being a burden,” there are many reasons why your parents may also be avoiding the assisted living conversation. But if you wait for them to bring it up, you might be waiting until you are overwhelmed by care responsibilities or there is a crisis.
“Then you’re stuck with wherever a bed is available — whether it’s the right fit for your parent or not,” Jones says.
Fortunately, most people say they’d be relieved if a loved one started the conversation. By being proactive in the search for assisted living, you and your family can take your time and make sure you find the assisted living community that will best meet your parent’s needs.
“The earlier the better, just so you know what’s out there,” says Bianca Syriac, Marketing Director at The Ivy at Ellington. “If you do the research ahead of time, it makes those crisis situations easier because you’re already aware of who’s out there and what kind of services they provide.”
Adds Marty Sawyer, the Resident Care Director at The Ivy at Ellington: “If your aging loved one is reluctant, say something like, “Dad, this isn’t for now, but let’s do our homework and find the place you're interested in for when the time comes.”
Reason #5: You’re not sure where to start
With more than 32,000 assisted living communities in the U.S., finding the right one for your parent can be a daunting task. Plus, there is no standard for assisted living communities, and they’re not regulated by the federal government, which can make comparing one community to another difficult.
If you think it’s overwhelming, just imagine how your parent will feel. Before you say a word, take time to collect some information and research possible solutions. Gather brochures on assisted living communities that can provide additional care as needs increase. Ask friends, neighbors, and health care providers for recommendations. Check out a few places on your own so you have concrete examples to talk about — then approach your parent.
One of the best ways for your parents to see what assisted living is really like is for them to visit. “Just come and have lunch and look at it,” Jones says. “They’ll realize it’s not a nursing home, and then maybe next time you come back for an activity.”
Over several visits, your parent will get to know the community, the staff will help foster a sense of connectedness, and your family can determine if it’s the right fit for your loved one.
“The reality is, people can enjoy the benefits of assisted living, but the longer you put off the move, the smaller and smaller that window of enjoyment gets,” Athanas says. “You don’t want to find yourself in a position where Mom slips, breaks a hip, and then assisted living is no longer an option. Then they have to go straight to skilled nursing.”
Don’t wait to have the assisted living talk until it’s too late. For more tips for how to handle difficult conversations with a parent when discussing assisted living, download our eBook Having “The Talk” With your Parent.