Talking to parents about assisted living can be tough. The move to a senior living community is often viewed as a blow to an older adult’s independence. Many seniors stubbornly avoid discussing this topic because they’re afraid they’ll be forced out of their homes. Adult children and even spouses tiptoe around the subject because they’re unsure how their loved ones will react.
While moving is a big adjustment, assisted living can actually extend a senior’s independence, improve their social life, and provide assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs). Currently, there are more than 918,000 individuals residing in 28,900 assisted living communities nationwide, according to the National Center for Assisted Living. Assisted living is becoming an increasingly important part of long-term care planning for many families.
When should you talk to parents about assisted living?
Talking with aging parents about assisted living well before it’s needed can help ease some of the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding long-term care. An accident or medical crisis can suddenly necessitate a higher level of care, which can lead to families frantically searching for whatever’s available rather than finding the best option. Taking the time to research and tour senior living options can help you find a community that offers quality care and matches your loved one’s needs, preferences, and budget.
Make future plans a topic of ongoing discussion
Talking to parents about assisted living early on, while they're still able to live safely in their current community, gives you the opportunity to discuss the future in a nonthreatening, hypothetical way. This way the feeling won’t be, “We HAVE to have the discussion right now,” says Gail M. Samaha, an elder care planning consultant and founder of GMS Associates in Scituate, Massachusetts. “Parents are less likely to wind up feeling like their kids are ganging up on them.” Instead, “the talk” can be viewed as an evolving process where everyone’s opinions can be heard, but nothing needs to be acted on immediately.
Have the conversation in a comfortable spot, such as the kitchen table. Start by saying, “I know this may be hard to talk about, but I want to honor your wishes. For me to do that, I need to know exactly what they are. We don’t have to decide anything today. But let’s just start the discussion, so we can keep this in mind and focus on preparing for the future.”
Tips for talking to your elderly parents about assisted living
The following tips can help foster a healthy, collaborative discussion about assisted living.
Research senior housing options
Before bringing up the topic with your parents, learn about the different types of senior living settings and the level of care each provides. Senior housing characteristics can differ from state to state, so be sure to research options in the state where your parent lives or wishes to relocate. For example, in California, assisted living communities are often referred to as residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFEs).
Pricing varies for each type of senior community and changes over time. The median cost of assisted living is $4,500 per month, according to Genworth’s most recent Cost of Care Survey. Contacting local communities for pricing information can give you a more accurate picture of long-term care costs.
Learn about your parents’ financial situation and their options for funding their care. For example, ask if they’ve purchased long-term care insurance. If one of your parents is a veteran, they could be eligible for veterans benefits. If you bring solid information to the table, everyone will be able to base their decisions on facts and avoid unnecessary surprises.
Some elders are tight-lipped about their finances, so discussing how to pay for care can be tricky. Samaha suggests emphasizing that you need to have an idea of what they can afford in order to be able to provide for their wishes and needs.
Promise to keep seniors involved in decisions
Everyone wants to be able to choose where they live and the kind of care they receive. Age doesn’t change this preference. If they’re healthy enough to do so, ask your parents to join you in touring senior living communities or going to visit friends and relatives who have already made the move. Seeing these settings firsthand, getting a feel for how they function, and speaking with current residents candidly about their experiences will help when it comes to making a decision.
Present housing options with positive language and tone
One way to ensure this conversation goes smoothly is to be careful about how you present it. When speaking about assisted living, use positive, nonthreatening words. Refer to assisted living as a “community” rather than a facility. Talk about “condo-style living” rather than “rooms.” Highlight the activities, amenities, and social opportunities rather than the personal care.
The tone of voice you use can make a big difference, too. Make a conscious effort to speak in a calm and pleasant tone. Let your parents know it’s important that they’re the ones to make the final decision. It’s also important that you recognize and respect their decision, regardless of what you feel is best for your parents. Listen to them and validate their feelings. If a person feels they aren’t being heard, they may become frustrated. If they get angry, remain calm and listen. Don’t respond with more anger.
Identify the what-ifs
If both parents are still living and together, ask what may need to happen if one of them passes. Should their home be sold? Should the surviving parent downsize or move into assisted living? This part of the conversation can be difficult, but it can help you learn about your parents’ wishes for each other. It may shed some light on what they’ve already discussed as a couple.
Express that this is an unpleasant scenario to consider, but share that your goal is to know what they want for one another. Try saying something like, “You’re both okay now, but what should we do if that changes?” Ask each of them what they’d want for the other person if the worst were to happen. Ask for suggestions on how you can help ensure they remain safe, well cared for, and financially stable.
Recognize why seniors want to stay at home
Many seniors fear that moving to assisted living means they’ll lose their independence and connection to their community. Some seniors may be concerned about how to pay for assisted living. Others may have an emotional attachment to their home. While talking to your aging parents about assisted living, considering their concerns will help you answer their questions and respond to objections.
Discuss ways your parents can continue living in their house, such as hiring in-home care or attending adult day programs. Emphasize that a move to assisted living doesn’t mean they’ll no longer have control over their daily life. After settling in, most older adults find that they have more free time for the things they actually enjoy doing because the housekeeping, laundry, and meals are taken care of.
Research the progression of illness
If your loved one has been diagnosed with a medical condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or heart disease, learn about how it might progress. Certain health conditions can significantly impact a senior’s ability to stay at home and/or make informed decisions about moving.
Share what you’ve learned from your loved one’s doctor or your own research. Discuss how services offered in specific long-term care settings could help them at different stages of their illness. A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) is a good example of a long-term care setting that allows seniors to remain in the same community while receiving increasing levels of care as their condition changes.
Support for families considering assisted living
If you and your parents are ready to start exploring assisted living communities in their area, contact a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom, AgingCare’s senior living referral counterpart, for guidance. A Senior Living Advisor will listen to your concerns and provide the information you need to help you have a productive conversation with your aging loved ones.
If after talking with your parents about assisted living, you’ve decided to explore in-home care as an alternative, AgingCare’s Care Advisors are available to help you find home care providers that fit your loved one’s needs and budget.
Reviewed by senior care expert Leslie Fuller, LMSW, CDP.
National Center for Assisted Living Facts & Figures (https://www.ahcancal.org/Assisted-Living/Facts-and-Figures/Pages/default.aspx)
Cost of Care Survey (https://www.genworth.com/aging-and-you/finances/cost-of-care.html)