The first step to understanding how to discuss senior living options with any senior is to recognize that both the discussion and the decision are emotional, but not necessarily rational. Even with a long list of risks associated with staying at home and the benefits of senior living at hand, bringing up the subject can quickly devolve into an emotional standoff with hurt feelings and nothing accomplished.
That’s because even the idea that a senior should consider senior living can be wrapped up in fear, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, grief, shock, shame, denial, and more. Some common fears might include:
• Loss of independence.
• Confronting failing health, particularly memory.
• Running out of money.
• Leaving the memories of home.
• Losing loved ones.
• Becoming dependent on others.
• Losing the ability to drive.
• Being isolated and lonely.
• Falling or becoming incapacitated.
Due to the emotional nature of the subject, it’s best to plan ahead and be aware of helpful tips before it’s time to discuss senior living with a loved one. The following guidelines can help to create a conversation that is productive and caring.
→ Download our guide to understand how to have a productive conversation about moving to senior living and approach the emotions around it with empathy.
Start with the right perspective
Remember that the senior is the decision-maker so creating a sense of partnership can help open the door to providing the guidance and support they need when they need it most. Making patience and empathy (not sympathy) the goal of each conversation reminds the senior that they are in charge and that their wishes will be respected to the greatest extent possible given the senior’s unique circumstances.
Don’t go it alone
Making the decision to move or not is a huge one for every senior and for every member of their family. For that reason, before jumping in, it’s a good idea to talk to family members first to gauge how they feel and why. This is especially important when the current caregiving falls on one person, while others do not live close enough or are otherwise unable to take their turn and make the same sacrifices. Having a united front also means there are more people to not only help research options but to be there when it’s time to approach the subject with the senior.
To keep on track, here are a few tips about what not to do.
• Dictate a plan to your loved one. You’re trying to create an ongoing, honest discussion about the future and they should be included in all aspects of the process.
• “Parent” your parent. Share your concerns, but regardless of how the tables may be turning, it’s important they feel respected and heard as your parent.
• Feed fear. It’s important to guide the conversation around your concerns, but in a way that shows you’re collaborating to help your loved one live their best life, not scaring them into a move. Feeding fear and negativity can also stonewall conversations.
• “Spring” the conversation to force the discussion. While it may be easier to bring up when you’re somewhere like a car where passengers are a captive audience, suddenly forcing the issue can backfire. Instead, create space for a series of conversations without distractions.
Choose the best time
When addressing the possibility of a move to a senior living community, timing is crucial and sooner is always better. Although one of the most obvious times is when a senior has suffered a fall or other physical or mental setback, it’s best to prepare before a crisis occurs. Other signs it’s time to discuss a move include failing memory, inability to keep up with daily personal hygiene, missing doses of medications, or other indications that exemplify the need for additional help or care. Or perhaps it can be a more casual moment when family members get together and have time to calmly introduce the subject and share insights.
The consumeraffairs.com article, “Signs it’s time for senior assisted living,” can help families understand some of the reasons that it’s time to discuss options.
When a senior has resided in a home for years (or decades) they often see no reason to leave what they perceive as their castle. But when their health, safety and security cannot be guaranteed at home, it’s up to family to help them understand. The best way to do that is to prepare by making a list of reasons based on facts, such as the stairs have become dangerous, meal preparation is a burden (and eating well is important), and/or driving is no longer a good idea. Just reminding a senior of these realities can often help them see the need for a more assisted lifestyle that actually can help them be more independent than they are at home. More about preparation is available in the whereyoulivematters.com blog, “Tips for Talking to Aging Parents About Senior Living Choices.”
Seniors are adults and expect to be treated with respect, so sensitivity is key to success. Again, this often requires maintaining an atmosphere of empathy and patience where listening, rather than talking, is uppermost. This allows the senior to feel they have an equal say in their own future. Be prepared for a senior to simply say they don’t want to talk about it. When this happens, it’s best to leave it there and give them time to mull over what’s already been said until you can talk again. Be sure to let them know you are onboard with their need for more time and are open to an ongoing discussion when they are ready.
Before discussing senior living options, take time to understand what senior living offers in terms of amenities, services and lifestyle. Start with video tours of local senior living communities or when possible, schedule live tours and appointments with facility staff. Also talk to the senior’s friends who already reside in a senior living community to get their opinions and maybe even their help when it’s time to talk. When health is a concern it’s always important to also speak with the senior’s health care provider to make sure the senior living options offer the level of care necessary. To learn more about senior living choices, our blog, “Senior Living: Understanding the Choices,” is a good introduction to what’s available.
Propose a trial period
In many cases, a great way to approach a move to senior living is by offering a trial period because many seniors are willing to take the first step, but then go through an extreme roller coaster of emotions as they near the time to make a decision. That can, and often does, lead to simply getting off the ride, so to speak.
So, one really effective way to bridge the gap between considering senior living and making the final decision is to provide a number of opportunities to experience life in a senior community. That may include attending events, trying the dining, or enjoying a respite trial stay. Once they spend time there, making new friends, eating well and enjoying the independence of a senior living community, they will understand how much safer, happier and welcome they are.
In respite care, many seniors also feel good that they are no longer a burden on family, even if they never express it, so a brief stay can provide a perfect segue to making the decision on their own. For more about trial moves to assisted living, the agingcare.com blog, “No Strings Attached: Trying Out Assisted Living,” is a good reference.
At Arrow Senior Living, our primary goal is to defend the dignity of seniors and honor their experiences. Having this conversation can come with challenges, but if you approach it from a place of empathy, you can empower senior loved ones to confidently make their best decision. For more expert tips on addressing the fears and concerns that come with a conversation about moving to senior living, download our guide: Navigating the Senior Living Conversation and the Emotions That Come with It.