Aging loved ones often make their objections very clear to family members and friends when they’re faced with the prospect of moving to a senior living community. Some concerns revolve around giving up their independence or leaving the comfort of a long-time home. Others are based solely on the outdated perceptions of senior housing, fear of the unknown and a reluctance to face the reality that they are aging.
These protests and stalling tactics can be frustrating and discouraging for family caregivers, but it’s best not to ignore them and let the conversation slide. Instead, be prepared to respond to them in real time. Gail Samaha, elder advisor and founder of GMS Associates in Scituate, Massachusetts, and Sheri L. Samotin, founder and president of LifeBridge Solutions, a Florida company that provides family transition planning, caregiver coaching and other services, offer their expert advice on how to respond to seven of the most common excuses seniors use to avoid discussing the move to assisted living.
Excuse 1: “Oh, don’t worry about me.”
Caregiver response: “I do worry about you. That is my job as your child. It’s my responsibility to be sure that you are safe. I want you to stay in your home for as long as possible, but that may not always be the best option. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of other possibilities.”
At some point, you may need to be blunt and say, “This living situation is no longer working.” When delivering this dose of reality, back it up with reasons why you and their doctor (if they agree) feel this way, Samaha says. Cite concrete examples to drive your point home—incidents that, no matter how minor, could have easily been disastrous. For example, mention the time Dad fell off the ladder doing yard work or the multiple occasions when Mom has accidentally left a stove burner on overnight after cooking dinner.
Excuse 2: “I’m not moving to a nursing home!”
Caregiver response: “A nursing home is just one type of senior living, and assisted living communities are very different. It’s like a condominium. You have your own apartment. There’s a sit-down restaurant and other amenities on the premises, activities every day, and medical personnel onsite just in case you need them. Why don’t we go check one out? There’s no commitment, I just want to see what you think.”
Your parents’ generation likely remembers the cold, institutional-looking nursing homes of the 1960s and 70s. Today, most elders move to assisted living communities rather than directly into a nursing home (unless they need short-term rehabilitation to recover from a hospital stay). “Over the last few decades, increasing regulations and a focus on creating more home-like settings for patients has had a beneficial impact on the look and feel of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes,” explains Samotin. Clearly explain the differences between assisted living and the nursing homes of the past. Sit with your parent and visit the websites of some communities in your area. When they see photos of the accommodations, food and grounds, they may be more open to an in-person visit.
Excuse 3: “I’m not ready yet.”
Caregiver response: “I respect that, but being prepared is important. If we start now, we can take our sweet time exploring all the options and be certain that you find the right facility you’re comfortable with.”
Talk about how comforting it would be to both of you to know that if an emergency ever happened, you already have a plan ready. “To help Mom or Dad become more receptive to the idea,” Samaha advises, “point out that this move would place them in an environment that is ready to meet whatever unpredictable needs may pop up.” Otherwise, they might have to deal with a health setback and a move in quick succession, which is always physically and emotionally difficult on a senior. Moving sooner rather than later can eliminate a great deal of stress down the road.
Excuse 4: “I am going to decide where and how I am going to live.”
Caregiver response: “I want you to choose where you want to live. The ultimate decision is yours, but I think we should tour some communities to fully understand all your options first.”
“You can take charge of the research process and setting up tours, but give them some control of the decision-making process,” Samotin says. Make them feel like this is still in their hands, even if they don’t have much say in the matter. For example, let them choose between two facilities, or if that is not possible due to location, services and price, let them at least choose their room.
Excuse 5: “I don’t want to be around all those old people.”
Caregiver response: “Many residents are the same age as you and are as active as you. They go to the theater, play bridge and blackjack, and host book clubs, happy hours, and movie nights. Let’s just go check it out.”
To use this response, you need to have done your research ahead of time about the kinds of amenities and activities that senior living communities in the area may offer. Try to focus on the ones that might be of interest to your parent. If they have a sense of humor, Samotin suggests this response: “You’re right. They do look kind of old, but you’re going to come in here and shake them up. You’re going to be the talk of the town!” Regardless of the response, the goal is to convince your parent to at least visit a senior community and see with their own eyes what it’s all about.
Excuse 6: “I can’t afford it.”
Caregiver response: “Actually, it will cost about the same as or maybe even less than what you’re paying for your house. I have done the research and crunched the numbers. With the money you are spending on your mortgage (or rent), taxes, maintenance, utilities and other costs, assisted living can be more affordable. In addition, you wouldn’t have to worry about personally maintaining your residence and the grounds—it’s all included.”
Providing a detailed and accurate answer to this question involves some legwork on your part. “You’ll need to figure out your parents’ existing monthly expenses and how that total compares to the average cost of senior housing in your area,” Samaha says. It’s important to research options for financial assistance and mention those as well. If your parents qualify for veterans benefits or have a long-term care insurance policy or other financial products, it’s important to consider these as sources to cover the costs of care and housing.
Excuse 7: “It’s too much work to move.”
Caregiver response: “You’re spending all this time worrying about your home, but I want you to be able to enjoy your life and your retirement. I also want to enjoy the time we have together instead of cleaning the house, mowing the lawn and worrying about your safety.”
“Emphasize that you want to preserve your relationship with your parent,” Samaha says. Explain to them how the move will take some effort up front, but it will ultimately reduce both of your responsibilities. Assisted living facilities offer housekeeping, laundry and other services, which means you could improve your relationship by re-characterizing how you spend time together. Instead of using visits to provide care and help them maintain their house, you’ll be able to stop by, socialize and focus on simply enjoying each other’s company.