As our parents age, health and quality of life inevitably become a challenge to maintain. Bodies slow down, issues crop up and it becomes unhealthy for everyone involved to manage all of this on their own. This is usually the point where people consider assisted living - never an easy talk to have. That’s why we’ve put together this article on how you can have the talk with your parents.
Making uncomfortable conversations tolerable is a skillset that seems rare nowadays.
We all have one or two friends who always seem able to find just the right way to say bring up even the most sensitive issues. I’m guessing, that since you’re reading this article, you either don’t have that skillset or you’re brushing up on it, to talk to your parents about assisted living.
Before we Talk about Your Parents. Let’s Talk about you
That’s right, we’re talking about you first, because I know your secret.
If my guess is right - and it probably is- you’re probably feeling guilty about this situation. Even if you feel like this is the best decision, or if you’ve never even had a good relationship with your parents.
Right now, there’s a sickly butterfly flapping its way around your heart- and it sucks.
It sucks to think that there isn’t more you could do for your parents. There MUST be another way, right? You must somehow be able to handle their health needs, your career, their hygiene and your own children’s needs.
There MUST be some way to handle these needs without abandoning your parents….
You Have Nothing to Feel Guilty About!
If you’ve been having guilty thoughts like these, then you can put your heart to rest. There is absolutely nothing wrong with assisted living. You have nothing to feel guilty about, if you’re thinking this could be right for your situation.
The simple truth is, at this stage in our parent’s lives, you sometimes simply need help in providing the care that they actually need. In some ways, making the choice for assisted living is far superior to “toughing it out” or keeping the family “together”.
Is it better to keep your family under one roof when the bad outweighs the good? When you’re unable to REALLY care for your parents properly and give them the love and attention they deserve? The only “good” that comes out of a situation like that, is that you don’t have to feel guilty.
But does that mean your parent’s lives are better or happier?
Of course, there are some “ungrateful” children, who simply want to be “rid of” what they see as a burden. However, that doesn’t by default mean that you are one of those people. The very fact that you’re reading this right now, proves that you care about your parents.
There are many reasons that could be considered noble and good for suggesting assisted living to your parents and if you’ve gotten as far as reading this article, it’s already a serious consideration for you.
There are many valid reasons for considering assisted living. Some of these:
- Health complications
- Time restraints
- Primary caretakers travelling away
Or, maybe you’re not feeling guilty, but you’re not entirely sure how you SHOULD feel. Maybe you’re anxious over nursing home horror stories, worried about unforeseen consequences or even a little sad that you’ll be seeing your parents less often.
It’s normal to have concerns about making a transition like this. However, you have no need for concern, since we’re here to guide you through this process. Our website is equipped with tools to ensure that you and your parents get the best outcome possible...
Remember, you’re not casting aside your parents in their old age, to let “some other people” deal with them.
You’re doing your best to provide, comfortable, enjoyable and dignified living as they have done for you all your life.
Either way, we’re here to help and we’ve put together a detailed guide that breaks this process into 3 concrete phases:
- Detailed steps on preparing for the conversation
- Guidelines to make sure “the talk” goes smoothly
- Steps to take if things get heated and How to handle a Negative response
Phase 1- Preparing for the Conversation
Being adequately prepared for your conversation is critical to having a smooth and hopefully pleasant experience with your parents. Preparation will also facilitate a natural conversation which will make future conversations far easier.
Remember, this will likely be uncomfortable for both of you and not having clear answers to important questions will only build uncertainty in your parents. You’re proposing a major lifestyle change to them, there will be questions and you’ll need to have answers.
Before we get into that, however, you probably need to adjust how you’re thinking about this whole process.
Step 1. Don’t Overthink, Expect a Rational Conversation
Overthinking can be the death of us in situations like these. Instead of approaching the situation in a rational or even empathetic state of mind, we get sucked into a loop of expecting the worst. Which causes us to stress and see the situation even less clearly.
That’s why our first piece of advice, is to not overthink - it usually makes things worse- and expect a rational conversation.
(Here’s some quick advice by Eckhart Tolle on the matter.)
There’s nothing dangerous or even mildly threatening in that glass container, but because of his assumptions, he’s in a state of sheer panic. That’s why our first piece of advice, is to not overthink- it usually makes things worse- and expect a rational conversation.
Even if your parents reject the idea at first, they’ll have questions for you once they cool off:
- What made you suggest this?
- Do you really think this could be good for me?
- Will I still see you?
- What about the grandkids?
By expecting a rational conversation, you not only give yourself the opportunity to prepare and present a convincing argument, but you also calm your own nerves about the event.
You need to remember that most uncomfortable conversations are far worse in your head than they are in person. Remember the first time you confessed to a crush? Or Spoke to a friend about a hygiene problem?
You probably imagined that they would bite your head off or embarrass you publicly. I’m willing to wager however that the response you received was far milder than you expected and probably even kind.
If you expect good, you receive good, so start with that.
Step 2. Start by considering your relationship with Your parents
Have you entertained an open relationship that encourages communication and sharing ideas?
If you’ve typically had a more reserved relationship with your parents, then you need to take that into account when approaching them. If you haven’t necessarily been open books all your lives, it’s probably best to be very cautious approaching a topic like this.
When you first start testing the waters, you should consider your parents feelings and general mood:
- Have they been depressed today/recently?
- Have you had good conversations with them lately?
- Are they maintaining full lives?
The answers to these questions will give you insight into their state of mind. Which is critical in a conversation of this nature. If you and your parents have been bickering, or they have seen overly withdrawn, the LAST thing they want to hear, is that you want to move them out or hire an unfamiliar nurse to take care of them.
Step 3. Do your Research on Assisted Living
As we covered earlier, it’s incredibly important to have your research done before the “big talk” since you’ll be able to help calm the initial anxiety your parents may feel. It’s very likely that your parents know just as little (if not even less) about assisted living as you do.
Some people aren’t even aware that there are a VARIETY of solutions that can apply to individual situations.
Prepare the answers to general questions like:
What kinds of Assisted living are there?
- In House Care
- Assited Living Facilities
Why do you think assisted living is a good idea?
- Have you noticed things your parents may/seem to need help with? (going to the bathroom, remembering their medication, moving up and down stairs etc.)
- Would the quality of their lives be enhanced? (many assisted living facilities offer clubs, games, activities and pursuits that encourage feelings of self-worth and build self-esteem.)
Having answers prepared for these questions will show your parents that you’ve taken the time to prepare and think through even beginning this conversation with them. At the least, they’ll know that you care enough to do so.
Phase 2- Guidelines for a Positive Conversation
Now that we’ve covered how you should prepare for your conversation, let’s get into com critical things to do just before and during “the talk” to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.
Step 4. Try to Find out How they feel in Advance
As with most delicate topics, it’s usually best to try gauging how your parents would react before catching them off-guard. You can handle this effectively, by suggesting related but non-threatening subjects to see how they react initially.
For example, try saying things like:
- “How have you been feeling lately? Are you still able to keep up with everything?”
- “I see the house looks great! Does it take a lot out of you to keep things tidy?”
- “How was your last visit to the doctor? Was there anything important?”
You want to observe your parent’s reaction to probing questions like these. Remember, keep your tone neutral or happy and try asking at a “good time”, when the two of you are enjoying your time together or at the end of a good phone call.
If your parent(s) react openly and welcome a discussion, it’s probably time to move onto the next step: Emotional Priming.
Step 5. Emotionally Prime them to make the Conversation a Positive Experience
Even if you have an overwhelmingly positive response to your initial investigation, it’s best to not dive into the conversation immediately, unless your parent asks you directly to do so. Even then, take time to meet with them in person if possible.
If your parent’s response to your initial conversation was a little more ambiguous, or even negative, setting them up for the hard talk is even more necessary.
There’s a well-documented psychological phenomenon known as “priming” that can be put to effective use in this situation.
Let’s start by defining “priming”.
Priming essentially is a subconscious phenomenon that affects our emotional and even physical reactions to certain stimuli. For instance, if I were to have you read a story about being robbed at gunpoint at night, then later that day, I were to take you on a walk through a safe, yet poorly lit alley in your city, it’s likely that you’ll experience fear in the alley.
If, however, I was to have you read an article detailing the measures your city has taken to combat crime and how effective they have been, it’s likely that you’ll be undisturbed and probably even comfortable walking through the dark alley.
It’s not a coincidence that you seem to be able to smell your favorite foods from a restaurant you like 3 blocks away. Those restaurants intentionally allow their smells to drift toward you because they know it makes you more likely to buy. Marketers of all kinds have been utilizing this part of our psychology to their benefit for years!
Well, now it’s your turn to prime your parents for a positive conversation.
There are a few ways to go about this and you can feel free to use as many of our suggestions as you please, although just one will also suffice. Here they are:
- “Butter your parents up” by taking them out to a meal first or making an event on their behalf. By making the effort to honor and entertain your parents in advance, you flood their brains with endorphins, the “feel good” hormones and warm them up to a potentially difficult talk.
- Tell them true stories about people who are currently enjoying assisted living of different varieties
- Encourage any of their friends who are currently making use of assisted living to talk to them and relate positive experiences to them
Now of course, your parents aren’t foolish or blind. Sure, they may be able to see what you’re trying to do; however, their response will still be positively altered by the experiences. It’s the same reason that they bought you the candy they said you couldn’t have when you smiled sweetly and acted cute. In the worst case, they’ll feel happy to be receiving so much from you and at least be open to discussion.
Step 6. Don’t Dictate- Communicate, Lead a Dignified Discourse
As parents age, one of their primary emotional drivers, is the maintenance of a sense of dignity and control.
Think about things from their perspective. They’ve spent their lives building careers, raising children, solving problem after problem with confidence and maybe they were very physically active or led proud organizations at one point.
In their eyes, they may see themselves as slowly losing many of the things that formed their identity to age. That can take a toll if they haven’t had the opportunity to deal with it properly. The ideal outcome in this situation, is not for you to make a concrete decision and then either force or coerce your parents into going along with it.
Instead, your focus should be on leading a dignified dialogue that allows your parents to weigh in and ultimately guide the conversation toward an ideal outcome.
This is where your preparation comes in.
Start by making suggestions to your parents as to what you think an ideal solution would be. Don’t just say: “We’re thinking about assisted living” and leave it at that. Go into as much detail as you can in the moment, without overwhelming them.
Let them know things like:
- How far they may move away
- What the facilities are like
- What the company’s reputation for in house nursing is like
- How this will IMPROVE their quality of life
Once you’ve done this, provide them with resources that they can use to expand their own knowledge and propose solutions of their own- if they choose to do so.
Pay attention to their responses and continue going back and forth with them until you feel that you have reached a genuine solution.
Phase 3 - Handling Negative Responses
Sometimes, even when you’ve laid the ground work as best as humanly possible, things can go wrong.
If your parents do have a strong negative reaction to your suggestion, it’s critical that you don’t get caught up in an emotional brawl. Remember, this is far likely to be more uncomfortable for them than it is for you.
Be patient always and think through your responses before making them
ESPECIALLY, if you feel yourself getting a little heated.
Step 7. Make the Conversation about Them NOT You
You need to keep this at the forefront of your mind.
As much as assisted care could work to both you and your parent’s benefit, you need to make sure that you don’t focus on yourself in this talk. One way or another, this move is primarily about them- not you.
Even if positively received, you should take care to focus on the positive benefits that they’ll experience because of this decision and not say anything that paints them in a negative light.
Think about it as if you were telling a dear friend that you think they should lose weight for their health and self-esteem. Even if they smile, are attentive and wholeheartedly agree with you, saying something like:
“Wow! I’m SO HAPPY that you’re listening to me! It was getting really hard watching you get bigger and bigger and not being able to tell you to get some exercise! Haha”
The statement above is a perfect example of “foot in mouth syndrome”.
It was said with the greatest intentions, in the poorest way. Instead, rephrasing this statement makes it far more tolerable and even pleasant. Here’s an example:
“I’m SO HAPPY that you’re hearing me out. I was getting genuinely worried about you and you know that I love you. Soon we can both hit the beach together and love it!”
The second example, is inclusive, sensitive to the other’s emotional state and explicitly lets the other know that this conversation is based in love, not intolerance or inconvenience. Before you have your talk, think through a general outline of what may come up during the conversation.
Don’t tell your mother she needs help because she’s blind as a bat now…
Let her know that she is loved, that you want the best for her and any other reasons you have for your suggestion.
Step 7. If they Refuse at first (and they MIGHT!), be patient, be loving and try again
Sometimes assisted living is truly the only way forward for many families, however, mom and dad may genuinely not be interested at first.
If that’s the case with you, the best way to move forward is to proceed slowly and set your mind to convince them over time. Sometimes all it takes is people coming to the right conclusion on their own.
If they get upset or act withdrawn or plainly ignore you, wait.
Give them time to think things through on their own as they are likely giving you a “gut” reaction. Humans typically prefer familiarity to change and asking someone to potentially leave their home, their grandchildren or even a beloved pet can trigger some panic.
While you wait, be sure to give your parents a lot of love, time and as much enjoyment as possible. Doing so, will hopefully allow them to break free of a “gut” reaction to your suggestion and think more rationally about it.
Something that may greatly help this is to have conversations that break the negative stigma that some people have associated with assisted living. Some consider it to be a mark of weakness and the end of one’s life, when in truth assisted living can enrich the remainder of your parent’s lives greatly.
Always take a few days between bringing the topic up, especially if there is a persistent negative response. Eventually you may have to get them to agree to at least hear you out because of circumstance which is fine, but always approach this discussion with love and compassion.
A Quick Recap
You’re already spent a lot of time reading, so I’ll be brief. This part of the article is simply to remind you of what you’ve already learned so you can make use of it readily.
- Preparation is key
Before you dive into having a conversation with your parents, make sure you prepare adequately. Do research on what assisted living can mean for both you and them. Focus as much as possible on the positive aspects such as:
- Personalized health care
- A new group of peers to relate to
- Reduced Stress
- Increased quality of life
During your first conversation, your parents WILL have questions, it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to come as prepared as possible.
- Apply the guidelines for Smooth Conversation
You definitely don’t want to miss the opportunity to emotionally prime your parents for this conversation. Think of it like getting into a pool or warming up to workout. It’s always far more pleasant if you let your body temperature adjust first before diving in.
In fact, warming up for any exercise greatly reduces your chance for injury. The same applies here.
- Don’t forget to De-escalate negative responses
While your preparation will minimize the chances of a negative response, things don’t ALWAYS go to plan.
If the situation turns sour, remember first to frame the conversation from their perspective and not your own. It may be hard to truly grasp, since it’s likely that you see your parents as very strong people. However, you need to remember that they are vulnerable.
In their own eyes, age has taken a lot from them, even though it has given them great things like grandchildren, seeing your success or simply many nights in happy conversation.
If things get heated, be patient and regroup for another conversation at a later time.
It’s always best to approach with patience and love for things to work out for both of you.
Remember, you can apply this protocol to any difficult conversation you may need to have with your parents such as:
- Maintaining hygiene
- Giving up Driving
- Maintaining Health
- Finding New friends
- Finding Romance
- The list goes on
Have a phenomenal day!
We can Help! Our local advisors can help your family make a confident decision about senior living.