Community living offers a continuum of services that can radically improve your parent’s life. Senior living options include active living communities for healthy adults and assisted living options to help aging adults with the activities of daily living, preserve their independence, and support their commitment to remaining active and engaged.
Talking to your parents about senior living can be stressful. You may be worried about your parent’s safety or well-being, whereas they are concerned about reversing the parent-child role and losing independence. But this conversation doesn’t have to be complicated.
Myths about senior living are widespread and may distort your parent’s opinions. That’s why setting the record straight and explaining the benefits of the right community is critical to success during this difficult conversation. Here are five ways to get it right:
1. Understand Your Parent’s Perspective
Whether you’re hoping to get an independent, active parent into a community that supports their lifestyle, or you need a break from caregiving, your perspective may be quite different from your parent’s. They may be very concerned about losing independence, apprehensive about moving out of their home, or worried about being “locked away in a nursing home.” These concerns can color their perception of living options for aging adults.
So start by determining which myths your parents believe and how these might contribute to their concerns. Remember that being older does not remove the desire to live independently, even if your parent has a serious medical issue. Your parent does not want to feel discarded or treated as a stereotype. They don’t want to be forced into making a change that wasn’t their idea or made to feel as though you’re parenting them. And, most importantly, they do not want to have their choices judged or desires disregarded. Approach the conversation mindful of this reality and willing to collaborate rather than command.
2. Choose the Right Time and Person
Every difficult conversation requires the right timing. There’s no need for difficult conversations to turn into an argument or cause hurt feelings. Instead, approach your parents at a low-stress time, preferably when you can talk one-on-one.
It’s also important to consider that this is not a conversation everyone can or should have. The fact that you love your parent does not necessarily mean you’re the right person to initiate this potentially challenging conversation. Instead, choose the member of the family who has a history of being calm under pressure and a good, trusting relationship with your parent. If the conversation is initiated by a family member whose relationship with your parent is riddled with conflict, it’s guaranteed to go poorly—no matter how positive that person’s intentions might be.
3. Be Collaborative
Regardless of how you assess your parent’s needs, they deserve to make decisions about their own life. Your job is not to tell them what to do but to present them with new options and help them make life-affirming choices.
Share your concerns and invite your parent to share theirs. Discuss several different options, the risks and benefits of each, and why you think senior living might be the best (but not the only) choice. Your parent should not feel bullied or pressured. Remember, it’s not your job to be an advertisement for senior living.
4. Know Your Stuff
Your parent may have some misconceptions about community living, but you might have them, too. Be sure to inform yourself before you have the conversation. Be prepared to discuss specific amenities available at specific communities, rather than being vague or making false promises. The goal should be to show your parents that you have found a community that can meet their needs.
5. Take Your Time
Like most challenging conversations, it’s best to avoid overwhelming the other person with too much information at once. Instead, treat the conversation about senior living options as an ongoing, evolving dialogue. Begin with casually mentioning the topic, then progress over time to more specific and in-depth discussions. You might start by asking about aging generally, or how your parent hopes to spend the next chapter of their life. In your next conversation, you could share your concerns and ask your parent to discuss theirs. As you become comfortable talking about these subjects, discussing senior living will feel natural, not scary.
New things can be intimidating to all of us. After all, if we don’t know what to expect, it’s easy to fill in gaps with harmful myths. So don’t be surprised if your parent is resistant or gets defensive. It’s unkind to force them, and doing so will exacerbate any concerns they have about being forced to make a decision. Instead, back off and try again later with a different approach.
This senior living assessment can help you or your parents weigh the senior living options and arrive at the right solution. It’s also a great way to reconcile family disagreements because your parent can take it in private, free from pressure.