You may have been a CEO in your career or managed teams with aplomb. You know how to have hard conversations. Yet there is likely to be one meeting you want to avoid as long as possible: sitting down with your elderly parents to discuss a potential move to assisted living.
The majority of people want to age in place in their own home — and not just because it’s the house they lived in and loved for decades. The unspoken reason so many seniors resist a move to assisted living is that, unconsciously, it signals that their life is coming to a close, says a transition planning coach.
However, while someone may indeed live the rest of their life in an assisted living community once they move, the move itself by no means indicates that their life is over. Assisted living can be an opportunity to open a whole new chapter in their lives, filled with friendship and positive experiences.
What Assisted Living Can Offer Your Mom or Dad
Assisted living can provide renewal, friendship, support, and exploration that would be unavailable if your loved one remained at home.
This was the case for one spouse, after her husband’s condition necessitated full-time nursing care. She didn’t drive, and for more than half a century, she’d depended on her husband when she needed to go food shopping, to the hairdresser, or to run errands. He was also in charge of the family finances.
Her daughter helped her mother realize that assisted living was the best option under the circumstances, especially because the senior living campus where her husband resided also included an assisted living community.
She moved into assisted living and was able to visit with her husband every day until he passed away. Today, she is well adjusted and enjoys being part of the assisted living community, spending time daily with new friends she’s made there.
Having the Family Meeting to Discuss Assisted Living
Here is an 8-point checklist to help you begin the conversation around a potential move to assisted living:
- Watch for a window of opportunity. Like the daughter in the above story, if your mom or dad has a minor fall or other health incident, after they recover it’s an opportune moment to open the discussion about assisted living, pointing out that you want them to be reliably supported and safe as they age.
- Research assisted living communities now. The ideal time to talk about assisted living — and even to move — is before a health crisis hits. Many of the best communities usually have waiting lists. Once your parent is open to the subject, the more informed you are, the smoother the conversation will be.
At The Kensington Falls Church, for example, we offer an enhanced program that includes assisted living and memory care, enabling our residents to age in place if their needs change or increase. With a doctor’s office onsite and staff nurses available 24/7, our residents not only enjoy living in beautifully appointed surroundings in a historic, senior-friendly setting; they also have the comfort of knowing a full spectrum of clinical support is available, should they need it.
- Ask questions that speak to your parents’ concerns. Instead of saying, “Mom, you can’t manage the stairs anymore, you really need to move,” begin with, “Mom, I’m worried that you might fall or have some other type of emergency when no one is around. What if you need help?” Then listen carefully and address your parent’s concerns about a potential move to assisted living.
- Think like a real estate agent. Speak in terms that paint a welcoming picture of assisted living: a “community” rather than a “facility”, “apartment homes” rather than “units”. Describe the active social life that awaits them, and the joy of having permanent housekeeping services and five-star meals prepared by a local celebrity chef! Assisted living offers the best aspects of hotel living, yet it’s their own home — with built-in support and potential friends.
- Take a tour or two. Ask your parents to accompany you on a visit to a few assisted living communities in the area. Emphasize that you want to get a sense of what they like and don’t like.
Talk with residents and staff; does this seem like the kind of environment in which your loved one would thrive? Have a meal with the residents. Does the food appeal to your loved one? Does the community accommodate special dietary needs? Come prepared with a checklist, and ask all the questions that come to mind.
- Learn what they can afford. Do you know your parents’ financial situation? Have they planned for long-term care? Will it be necessary to sell their house in order to afford assisted living? Luxury assisted living is not inexpensive, though there are more modest communities available.
While many parents are reluctant to discuss money matters with their adult children, emphasize that you can suggest better options once you understand what’s financially realistic for them.
- Suggest a “try before you buy” visit. Some assisted living communities allow prospective residents to stay for a week or even a month to get a feel for whether this is the right fit for them, and to develop a comfort level with the assisted living environment before making a commitment.
- Keep talking. It’s unlikely you and your parents will reach a decision about assisted living in a single conversation, unless it’s an emergency — which, as noted, is not the best time to make a major life determination.
Once you’ve successfully broached the subject of assisted living, stay alert to future opportunities to circle back in gentle ways that point up the benefits to your mom and dad. Over time, they are likely to warm to the idea — and may eventually tell friends it was what they wanted all along.