How to Convince Your Parent to Move to Assisted Living

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Conventional wisdom says that we all want to stay in our own homes for as long as we can. That is likely how most of our elders feel; however it's not always in their best interest to do so. How do we talk with them about the realities and dangers of staying at home once their health is failing, and how do we convince them that a move to an assisted living center could be a very good – and positive option?

I believe that part of the problem with convincing elders, and many younger people for that matter, is that people haven't been inside a modern assisted living center. Deep inside their gut, they harbor the outdated image of an "old folk's home." They consider a move from the family home one more step away from independence and one step closer toward death. They think a move to assisted living signifies to the world that they now have the proverbial "one foot on a banana peel and one foot in the grave." This image and mindset is stubborn.

For many elders, some in-home help and a personal alarm can be enough. They are able to stay in their own home for years with a relatively small amount of help. Then, a spouse dies. The survivor is now truly alone. There's no one to get help for them should they fall and can't set off their alarm. There are few opportunities to socialize. Meals become a chore, so they don't eat well. Memory is failing, and the stove doesn't get turned off. The single elder, stubbornly clinging to the idea that their familiar home is best, can often be a sad and lonely sight.

Contrast this life with living in a good assisted living center, whether it's a stand-alone building, one connected to a nursing home or a small family operation where only a few seniors board. In any of these situations, seniors can thrive because: They don't have the responsibility of keeping up a home, so they are relieved of the need to hire help or let the house deteriorate. They have people around should they need medical help or other assistance. They have choices of food and snacks with nutritional value and, in most cases, good quality. Perhaps most importantly, they make new friends and have an abundance of activities to choose from.

Okay, you are convinced. You know that you can't keep providing the constant oversight for your parent that has been taking over your life, and by extension, taking over the lives of your spouse and children. How do you go about convincing your parent that it's time think about moving to assisted living?

  1. First, plant the seed. Don't approach your parent as though you've already made the decision for him or her. Just mention that there are options that could make life easier and more fun.
  2. Next, offer a tour of some local assisted living centers, if he or she is willing, but don't push it. Drop the subject if necessary, and wait for another day.
  3. Watch for a "teachable moment." Did Mom fall, but escape getting badly hurt? Use that as a springboard. You may want to wait a bit, or immediately say something like, "Wow, that was close. Once you're feeling better, maybe we could go look at the new assisted living center over by the church. We'd both feel better if you had people around." Go with your gut on the timing, but use the "moment."
  4. Again, don't push unless you consider this an emergency. It's hard to wait, but you may need to. Wait for, say, a very lonely day when Mom is complaining about how she never sees her friends anymore. Then, gently, try again.
  5. Check with your friends and friends of your parents. See if any live happily in an assisted living center nearby, or if their parents do. Just like your first day of school when you looked for a friend – any friend – who may be in your class, your parent would feel much better if there were a friend already in the center.
  6. Even if they won't know anyone, you can still take your parent to watch a group having fun playing cards or wii bowling. Show off the social aspects of a good center. Keep it light and don't force the issue. Tour more than one center, if possible, and ask your parent for input. Big center or small? New and modern or older and cozy?
  7. Show interest in how much privacy a resident has. Ask about bringing furniture from home and how much room there is. Take measuring tapes and visualize, if you can see some rooms, how your parent's room(s) would look. Show excitement, as you would do if you were helping your parent move to a new apartment, because that's what you are doing.
  8. Stress the safety aspects.
  9. Stress the fact that there's no yard cleanup, but flowers can be tended to. There's no need to call a plumber if the sink breaks, but there are plenty of things to do if people want. There's plenty of freedom to be alone, but company when they desire it.

Then wait. Let it all sink in. Sorry to say that if you want your parent to make the decision, you could have to wait for another fall or something else before they will be willing to take that step. However, if your family is close-knit, have a meeting with the parent at this point and tell him or her how much better the family would feel if the move were made.

Enlist a family friend or spiritual leader to chat with your parent and state the case for this move. Third parties often can make headway when family fails.

Be sensitive to your parent's feelings. Leaving a home where he or she lived with a life partner, raised kids and once had friends among the neighbors is emotionally difficult. Whittling down a lifetime of possessions is hard. Be kind, be sensitive and try to make it be about your parent and not about you.

However, if you must – let your parent know that it will help you to know that he or she is safe. Play the "we are worried about your care." It's the truth. It's just easier if you can swing it, to let the parent make the decision.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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97 Comments

My mother was that person in the article. She wouldn't even consider moving out of her home. We all tried to convince her that she would be so much better off in an assisted living home, even the doctor told her that she couldn't live alone anymore but nothing worked. I tried once taking her over to the home just to look around and she wouldn't even get out of the car at first then when she did she tried running away from me.....The family finally decided that she had to move for her own safety and we just took her over to the ALF, luckily she forgot she was there before and just walked in with us. When she realized what was happening she got extremely angry and it was very hard to just leave her there. For three months we considered taking her out because she didn't seem to be adjusting. It sounds like a very cruel thing to do but after three months she settled in and now loves living there and is happier than she has been in years.....best thing we ever did, wish we did it sooner.........it's like dealing with a child, they don't know what is really good for themselves anymore...
How are we going handle our outcome when we get to our parents age? Are we going to do the same? I sure hope my memory does not fail me. I hope I will be able to understand what will be best for me. I told my kids what we are going through, and said to them, if my memory goes just find a nice place for me to be safe and around people who really care for the elderly. My daughter's eyes filled up with tears. I think these are issues we should be talking about with our children now, 20-25 years from now is too late. Maybe we should put in writing what we would like to be done about the possibilities that could happen to us. I think we should consider who would be best for power of attorney. handling our financial affaires, things like that. It would be less worry for the kids. I think it would help them not feel as if they are stepping over the line with us. They could see how much we trust them and not make it too hard on them. Just some food for thought.
I work in an Assisted Living Community and can tell you from my experience, the conversation with mom or dad about the need for a transition is extremely difficult for most. From the elder's perspective, moving to Assisted Living is like admitting that they are no longer independent, and as a result, may make them feel like they have less value as a person. Today's seniors grew up in an age when being self-sufficient might have been all they had. They are very proud, and they were taught that buying a home was one of the greatest things they could achieve. Assisted Living communities didn't exist back then, and nursing homes were by and large places you didn't remember fondly. In their experience, families typically took care of the elders in their own homes until they passed. This is why your loved one may expect that you do the same. For all these reasons, it's understandable their resistance to the suggestion that they move out of their home.

Without a doubt, it is best for seniors to be in an environment that is safe, provides for necessary care and assistance with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, meals, transportation, etc.), and offers a social model to keep them connected and active as possible. Entering that initial conversation can be frightening for a lot of adult children, but it can help to do some homework on the options ahead of time. Research the communities in your area and consider taking mom or dad to your favorite one for lunch to introduce them to the idea. Being in a public place may reduce your risk of an extreme reaction to the subject. :) Best of luck to you!