How to Talk About Senior Living With Your Loved One

In this article...
  • Talking to your parents or loved ones about assisted living, home health care or skilled nursing care is challenging. Here are some tips to help have the conversation.

Is it time to have “the talk”?

No, not the talk with your kids about … you know. This is the talk with your aging parents or other loved ones about their need for help with daily living. You may need to have this talk because of a sudden change in their health. Or you may want to have the talk before that ever happens, because it’s good to plan ahead.

Either way, it may be difficult. Most older adults either don’t see a need for or deny that they need extra help. It’s hard for anyone to admit that their strength, focus or stamina are fading and might now be limiting their lives. Worse, few want to think about having to leave the home they have lived in and raised a family in for years or decades. 

This talk can be frightening, to both the elderly and those who are trying to keep them safe and healthy. Here are some tips to help everyone make “the talk” easier and more productive.

Discuss Senior Living Options With Your Siblings

It’s no secret that siblings argue, and your brothers or sisters – if you have them – may not agree that now is the right time to have this discussion. Or they may disagree on the solutions that you have in mind. It’s important to settle any disagreements before you talk to your loved one.

If these disagreements are too strong to solve on your own, find a social worker or elder care counselor to act as an intermediary. You and your siblings need to be united when you approach your loved one in order to keep the discussion healthy and beneficial.

Have an Initial Discussion Well Before You Are Forced To

Everyone is better served by planning ahead. You don’t want a medical emergency to catch you unaware and out of control of the situation. Making decisions in a moment of crisis is never a good idea, when everyone is under stress. It’s better to talk about it calmly, when you and your loved one are clear-headed and present.

Include Your Elderly Loved One From the Beginning

Don’t make decisions for your loved one without their input unless you absolutely have to. This is their life, after all, and they deserve to be a part of the discussion. Let them tell you what they want and don’t want when the time comes, and discuss the options openly and honestly. This is a family decision, and your job is to listen and help, not to dictate and decide.

Understand That You May Need to Have These Talks Often

Your loved one may not be ready to talk about this the first time – or the second or third or even tenth time that you bring it up. That’s another reason to start the discussion early.

Don’t push them. Be respectful. They are most likely afraid or in denial, and that’s normal. Agree that this is not the time and suggest that you all meet to talk about it again in the future, perhaps even regularly like every few months. In time, they may come to change their mind or note that their situation has worsened. 

Be Prepared With Senior Living Options

Do your due diligence and come to the table with options for the loved one to consider. With so many different possibilities – home-based care, assisted living, skilled nursing home and others – you need to have a good grasp of what you think the elder needs and where those needs are best met.

Collect marketing material from the facilities you are considering. Suggest taking a tour with your loved one. It’s always smart to have possible solutions on hand when your loved one is ready to consider options.

Understand the Financial Aspects of Elder Care

Be sure you have a good handle on your loved one’s financial situation, insurance coverage (or lack of it) and how the family expects to pay for care. If your loved ones won’t divulge their financial situation to you, ask them to meet with an elder law attorney or other financial expert to help them understand the costs and payment strategies of senior care.

Stay Positive at All Times.

Experts suggest two dos and don’ts

  • Do focus on how much your loved one’s life will improve with some outside help.
  • Don’t stress how they are struggling and “can’t do things anymore.”

No one want to be reminded that they can’t safely climb a ladder, shovel the driveway or go to the basement to do laundry. They know, at some level, that life has gotten harder. Instead, stress the benefits of help: someone to cook and clean for you when you want, someone to mow the lawn, someone to run errands, the peace of mind of onsite healthcare, the safety of 24/7 security systems.

They may object to all of these. Again, be patient. Keep the option open and in a positive light.

Stay Open-Minded

Your loved one may very well object to everything you say about their needs. So, ask them what they think they need. What kind of help would they like? How can you help make their lives easier?

Let them steer the conversation and empower them to have control over their lives and futures. They are far more likely to agree to something they choose than something pushed on them.

Talk to the Experts

There are many organizations ready and willing to help families discuss elder care and give advice. AARP, the National Council on Aging and many others are available. So are your loved one’s physicians, who likely are well-versed in senior health issues.

Also consider a geriatric care manager, who can assess your loved one’s needs and recommend solutions. An elder law attorney is a good source for legal and financial considerations. All of them are impartial and can help with family squabbles that often get in the way of smart decision-making.

About the Author

David Levine is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, American Heritage, U.S. News & World Report and others.

David has covered health, health insurance and health policy topics – among many others – since 2017. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Rochester and currently lives in Albany, New York.

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