How to Talk to Your Parents About Assisted Living
One of the most asked questions regarding senior care involves “the conversation”…or how to talk with your parents about assisted living. Many caregivers dread having this discussion and with good reason. How will mom or dad respond? Are they going to think you are trying to take away their independence? How can you communicate your concerns to them without making them defensive or angry?
While the majority of older Americans are attracted to the idea of “aging in place,” the reality is that a full seventy percent of seniors aged 65 and over will need some form of long-term care in their lifetimes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Not only that, but with every year that passes, a senior’s chance of requiring care increases.
More likely than not, you, your aging loved one, and the other members of the caregiving team will be faced with some difficult conversations about care in the not-so-distant future. Read on for five important points to keep in mind aimed at helping you work together toward agreeable, positive outcomes for all.
So, how do you have this conversation? It’s human nature to avoid talking about things that make us uncomfortable. For many caregivers and their aging loved ones, this means that important topics often go undiscussed. Unfortunately, this can lead to frustrating misunderstandings — particularly when it comes to seniors and fear of aging. Here are some of our thoughts which may help:
Do Laugh – This sounds like an out of context piece of advice, but it is one that is desperately needed during this time. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry; find humor even in the most bizarre circumstances and let it RELAX you. It’s okay to laugh. The last thing you want to do is approach your parents with pent up emotions, expecting the worst and feeling ready for combat. Instead, lighten up! Follow your loved one’s lead and calmly let it guide the conversation.
Do Keep Communication Lines Open – One of the best ways to ensure you have the information you need as a caregiving team is to start the conversation early. Some tips for making the topic easier? Initiative the conversation by leading with your own long-term care wishes, or share an article or story about someone faced with a long-term care decision. Doing so can help seniors and caregivers alike feel more comfortable venturing into this tricky territory.
The truth is that there is a rampant lack of planning in this country pertaining to long-term care, and experts predict that it may lead to dire consequences. In fact, according to the results of a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research as reported by PBS, shockingly few American families are having conversations about long-term care. Associated Press Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta explains, “Very few people have arranged to pay for or even to think about their own needs. Most haven’t even taken the basic step of talking to family members about their preferences.”
The good news? Once you do start talking, it will only get easier. Not only that, but caregivers and aging loved ones alike will enjoy the peace of mind of knowing they’re on the same page when it comes to plans for long-term care.
Don’t Judge – Don’t use the fact that you and your parent(s) may not have gotten along in your youth to force the idea of alternative care upon them. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were in their position (some day you will be!). Leave your judgment at the door and go in with an open mind. Be prepared to accept your loved one’s choices. Support them in the decisions they make.
Seniors have spent their lives not only attending to their own daily needs, but also managing the daily needs of others. Giving up cooking and handing over the car keys isn’t just about their inability to do these things for themselves, but also about the larger and delicate issue of losing independence.
As we age, we don’t lose the desire to do things for ourselves; In fact, this desire can actually grow stronger when it’s threatened. Caregivers can support their loved ones’ ongoing independence by seeking out ways to help them adjust to age-related changes without sacrificing their way of life. This can mean anything from teaching them about adaptive devices which can help with daily tasks to exploring resources for older adults, such as meals on wheels and transportation alternatives.
Do Have Empathy – The only way you’re going to know exactly how your parents are feeling is if you could crawl into their brain and sense their emotions. The next best way is to actively listen to their fears and concerns, not speaking but focusing on their message; putting your emotions aside. Also, consider that your parents may already be receptive to this change and merely want to use this forum to be heard.
We frequently talk about senior fears in terms of loss of independence. But there’s a related fear which often goes unaddressed: loss of control. Because so many seniors have spent their lives being the ones in charge, this perceived role reversal may feel like a threat or loss.
Caregivers can avoid prompting this feeling of powerlessness through one surprisingly simple tactic: Inviting them into the conversation. Getting older does not strip away your wants, needs, likes, concerns and fears. In some cases, in fact, it amplifies them. Listening — truly listening — to your aging loved one can ensure that his/her wishes are ultimately met while simultaneously engaging and empowering him/her to feel like a participant as opposed to a pawn.
In some cases, members of the caregiving team will have different beliefs about the level of care needed. In other cases, caregivers may feel resentment or guilt towards themselves or another person in the caregiving team throughout the decisionmaking process.
It’s important to remember that caregiving is not “one size fits all,” and different people have different contributions to make due to factors ranging from geographic distance to personality differences to the demands of juggling work and caregiving. And that’s alright! Regardless of their level of daily involvement, each family member’s opinions should be welcomed and heard during your family discussion on senior care.
Come to a point where no one is agreeing and therefore no decisions are being made? Your aging loved ones healthcare team may be able to provide useful insights into the most appropriate type of care for your aging family member. Still can’t come to terms during family disputes over care? Family and elder mediation services can help divided families overcome their differences toward workable outcomes.
Don’t Go into the Talk Unprepared – If for all of life’s challenging moments you had access to a script that could magically smooth away the bumps in the road, then moments like these would be predictable and the outcomes pleasant. But you don’t. The closest thing to a script is preparation. Be ready to offer information on:
Assisted living communities in your neighborhood and the maintenance-free lifestyle that is offered
How the senior care services can make life easier for both of you and meet your loved one’s changing needs
What assisted living is and is not (it’s not a nursing home!)
How you will continue to be involved and support them
The peace of mind you both can enjoy
No one likes to appear weak — especially parents who are resisting the transition from caregiver to care recipient. In many cases, this can lead seniors to hide or deny lapses in cognitive or physical abilities. While this is fine to some degree, it must be dealt with if these changes become a threat to your aging loved one’s health and well being.
One effective way to broach the subject? Tell your loved one how the situation is impacting you. Many aging parents are much more likely to accept help when they realize that doing so will actually lighten — as opposed to add to — your load.
Additionally, don’t automatically assume your loved one needs you to take over in a challenging situation. Offering to do it together can help him/her maintain a sense of control.
Last, but not least have a professional guide you through the process if at some point it becomes too overwhelming, even with siblings by your side. Remember, you never had a dress-rehearsal for this role, so be easy on yourself and root for the best outcome!
Do Discuss Options for Care – In order to make the most informed decisions during your family discussion on senior care, all members of the caregiving team must first understand the full range of options. From nursing homes and assisted living to senior living and in-home care, there are many different choices for seniors in need of varying degrees of care.
A great place to start when it comes to amassing the information you need to understand is reading the spectrum of resources available to seniors and caregivers today. Use resources that contain a breadth and depth of information aimed at supporting the important work of caregivers.
Do Consider Location – Families today are more geographically dispersed than ever. So while we often think about long-term care in terms of the “when,” the “where” is an equally important consideration.
Deciding on a location and choosing the right community in that location can depend on a number of factors, including cost, proximity to medical facilities, proximity to loved ones, and finding a senior living option that best meets an older adult’s unique needs. Again, talking to your aging loved one is a vital part of deciding on a location.
Once you have narrowed your options down to a shortlist, be sure to visit prospective care facilities in order to get a better sense of their offerings. Because each community has its own “vibe,” the only way to know for sure whether one feels right for your aging loved one is to visit; talk to administrators and staffs; and learn more about programs, services and activities for residents.