6 Ways to Prepare for "The Talk" About Moving to Senior Living


Talking to your parents about assisted living can be overwhelming and stressful for everyone.

It's a transition that some senior adults resist, often because they feel they are being forced out of their homes and losing their independence. Children and spouses resist this complicated conversation as well, because you may be scared of your loved one's reactions and don't want to think about a future without them.

Being prepared before a time of crisis arises can remove some of the anxiety and worry from the situation.

When it's time to talk with your parents about moving into assisted living, these six tips can create a more healthy discussion instead of one rife with accusations, frustration and anger.

1. Make it an ongoing discussion

If your elders are able to live alone and don't currently need the care provided by an assisted living, skilled nursing or another senior living community, you can discuss the inevitable future in a non-threatening way.

The feeling won't be, "We have to have that discussion," says Gail Samaha, an elder advisor and founder of GMS Associates in Scituate, Mass. "They're not feeling like, ‘Oh my God, the kids are ganging up on me and they're going to get in the way.'" Instead, "the talk" can be viewed as a process where everyone's opinions can be heard, but you're planting the seed for the possible move.

How to put it into action: Start the conversation at the kitchen table by saying, "I know this is hard to talk about, but I want to be sure as your child that I honor your wishes. In order for me to do that, I need to know what they are, so I can be there and help you along the way. We don't have to decide anything today, but let's start the discussion, so we can all think about it later."

2. Watch your language

Having the talk is inevitable, and may feel like it is out of your control. Discussions can quickly escalate into arguments if the conversation is not handled properly. Good ways to diffuse a potentially argumentative talk is to highlight the positives, and control the tone of the conversation.

How to put it into action: When speaking about assisted living, use non-threatening word. Call it a "community" rather than a "facility." Talk about "condo-style living" rather than a "rooms." Highlight the activities and social opportunities rather than doctors and medications.

The tone of voice you use can make a big difference. Some people have a natural assertive sounding voice. Make a conscious effort to speak in a calm, quiet and pleasant tone of voice. Let your parent know that it is important to you that he or she be the one to make the final decision. Listen and validate their feelings. But don't respond to their anger. The more a person feels they are not being heard, the louder they will speak. Don't reply with loud tones, or you will end up in a shouting match, which never ends well.

3. Identify the what-ifs

If both parents are still alive and together, weave into the discussion what may need to happen if one of them dies, in terms of selling the home and moving into a senior community. Yes, it can be a difficult and sad discussion, but it can help you learn about your parents' desires for each other and what they have talked about among themselves.

How to put it into action: Express that this is a difficult topic and that you recognize you can't control what happens. But share that your desire is to know what they want. Try saying something like, "Mom and dad, both of you are OK now. But what should we do if that changes?"

4. Recognize why they want to stay at home

Elders may not want to or be able to express this, but most know deep down that if they make a move, it is likely their final residence.

"Even if they can't articulate that or admit it to themselves, the underlying reason that elders don't want to move is that they feel they are going there to die, Sheri L. Samotin, founder and president of LifeBridge Solutions, a Naples, Fla., company that provides family transition planning, caregiver coaching and other services, explains. "Even if they know it's the right thing and good for them, it's not easy to acknowledge that you're at the twilight of your life. You're facing your own mortality."

They also may be unprepared to have their role with you change, from them taking care of you to you taking care of them. They fear losing their independence as well.

How to put it into action: Go easy on them and keep their concerns in your mind during the discussion, which can help you answer common objections. Since your elder may want the ability to decide where, how and with whom they are going to age, tell them you want them to have as much control as possible. Discuss ways that you can potentially bring in someone to do tasks for them, such as mowing grass or cleaning the house or grocery shopping, so they can remain in their home longer.

5. Know the options

Learn about the different types of senior living communities - especially in the state where your elder lives or will be living. Although costs could change, research typical costs. Learn about your parents' financial situation and options for funding (such as long-term care insurance or special programs for veterans). Also, research the community's reputation and safety reports, from their state.

How to put it into action: Ask your parents to join you in touring senior facilities, if they are healthy enough to do so. Some elders keep their finances close to the vest. Samaha suggests encouraging them to let you in on their financial picture, by saying, "In order for us to provide your wishes and your needs, we need to have an idea of what you can afford."

6. Research the progression of illness

If your loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson's, dementia or another disease, learn about the progression of the illness and how that could impact their ability to stay in the home or their decision about a senior living community.

How to put it into action: Share what you've learned from their doctor or research and discuss how the services offered by certain senior living facilities could help them in six months, a year, 18 months from now – or more. It can be disorienting and upsetting to move a frail elder - once they've made move from a private home to a community - again, Samotin says. Finding the facility that can meet their present and future healthcare needs, such as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) will ensure the elder's life doesn't have to be disrupted a second time down the road due to declining health.

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I agree that the conversation needs to be ongoing. For us, it took us 6 months of not dropping the subject before they acquiesced. Unfortunately we had not discussed their living arrangements before it was too late to renovate their home into something that was even remotely accessible for a wheelchair and for a home health aide to assist in the bathroom. So, we had to open their eyes and they got very angry, made up every excuse in the book as to why they were perfectly fine where they were, and we ought to leave them be. But, at the same time, they didn't want us moving out of state to pursue our careers either. They wanted it their way and felt very entitled to push us away and pull us close at their whim. This was totally unfair and cost both me and my husband a lot of sleepless nights. In my opinion, our parents got to live their lives and now its our turn to live ours. Their sense of entitlement is maddening. They said they didn't want to be a burden and yet by resisting us and our efforts to move them to a safe, clean, ADA compliant building, they were burdening us because we got to the point where their needs just kept growing and we could not keep up. Plus, they were miserable people to be around because their lives had turned out nothing like what they envisioned their golden years would be like. My inlaws had visions of traveling the world, going on cruises, socializing with their friends, and driving around in their convertible. Life had other plans and gave my MIL multiple system atrophy and my FIL depression and such high anxiety that he can barely function and refuses medication. Now they're in an independent living residential building that is wonderful and all us "children" no longer worry about them eating well, bathing safely, etc. But to hear them tell it, one would think that we entered them into the Hunger Games.
I would like an article that deals with an 87 year old dementia patient who has "nothing wrong" with him (according to him) and REFUSES to have anyone help him at home and won't consider assisted living. He is becoming more reclusive and combative. He has been on Aricept, Namenda and Seroquel for quite some time. He won't listen to the neurologist and insists that all the doctors have misdiagnosed him. He memory and judgment are severely impaired and have been for years now.
Excellent article. I know I have been chickening out from having the talk with my parents. Earlier this year I previewed a wonderful 5-star resort type retirement place that is near by... it was so great I wanted to sign up for myself.... I gave the brochure to my parents and bragged about the community. Days later Dad gave me back the brochure and said it would be nice maybe a couple years from now.... I wanted to say HELLO!! you are 92 and 96..... [rolling eyes]. Guess I got my answer.

I think I am just hoping my parents would see for themselves they can no longer care of their large single family home. Last year they were able to rake and bag leaves... this year I noticed they aren't raking at all. They kinda hint for me to do the work, but I told them I don't rake/bag my own yard, I can't any more.

Dad did mention the other night that he can barely get up the stairs to the bedrooms and baths. I mentioned maybe he and Mom want to look at one-level living, and left it at that.

Time will tell.