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Talking About Senior Living Options, When Home Is No Longer The Safest Place

The “assisted living” talk with an aging parent may be one of the hardest, most emotional conversations you will ever have with them. This article is not meant to make it sound easy, as if following a series of steps will make the process painless. Talking with a loved one about leaving their home should not be taken lightly. It will not be quick. It may take months to come to a resolution, and the resolution you ultimately come to may not be mutually agreeable.

The biggest hurdle most of us face is that the subject has never been brought up before. It is hard to admit that our parents are becoming weaker or frail, or that they may require help. However, at some point you've noticed – there’s moldy food in the fridge, the house is a mess, there’s apparent weight loss or frailty, there has been a medication mishap – it’s time.

If at all possible, start this conversation sooner rather than later, especially if you are not yet at the point where your loved one needs help immediately. Ask your folks what they want. Discuss how they would want to be approached when the time comes. With less urgency and pressure, the conservation can be less emotional and more solution oriented.

Of course we all hope to keep our loved ones in their homes as long as possible, but at some point home may no longer be a safe place, especially after a hospitalization or fall, or if one is coping with memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease.

In preparation for this conversation, remember that this is about them and how their needs will be best served. If you have siblings or close relatives, make it a team effort. Call a family meeting. Try your best to guide the conversation so that the decision is one you all come to. You may want to consider asking a third party to be involved, such as a doctor, faith leader or family friend.

  • Do not let your parent feel that you've made the decision for them. The first conversation should be a discussion, not an intervention.
  • Talk about options. Many of our parents have a misguided understanding that all senior housing options are equivalent to a nursing home or hospice. Let them know what is available. Talk about solutions that can make their lifestyle more interesting and even fun.
  • Be sensitive to the emotional attachment to their home, a place with years of memories. Empathize with them.
  • Stress the benefits of assisted living: An independent apartment. No more shoveling snow. No yard maintenance. No plumbers, electricians, or roofers. Available transportation.
  • Paint the lifestyle picture. Talk about meeting new people or dining with friends. Many assisted living communities have a multitude of amenities from salons and fitness centers to group art classes and outdoor recreation.
  • Be clear and use concrete examples that support why you think they need help.
  • When the moment feels right, and that may not be during your first conversation, offer to tour some assisted living residences together. Don’t push too hard. If your parent becomes uncomfortable, considering tabling the discussion until another day.
  • If the vibe becomes uncomfortable or your Mom or Dad starts to get overly defensive, be prepared to stop, especially when memory loss is a factor.
  • At some point you may notice your loved one pulling away from the process. They may need you to step in and make some decisions for them.
  • Remember that this is a process. It will take time, research and resources.

Be compassionate and be prepared. Offer to find whatever information your parent may need to guide them in making and coming to terms with their decision. Be prepared to take charge if safety becomes a concern, for example if there is a fall or kitchen fire. Be patient and understanding, but also set boundaries. Finally, do not be afraid to ask for help. There are many resources available to you. You may want to consult with your local council on aging or a geriatric care manager to assist your family through this process.

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