Tips for Approaching the Topic of Assisted Living With an Older Adult
May 9, 2013
Written By: Paula Spencer Scott, Senior Editor at Caring.com
Most people prefer to age in place in their own homes, studies show — but reality proves that’s not always possible. This clash often brings family members to an awkward juncture. They need to broach the possibility of alternative living arrangements with someone who may neither want them nor feel the need for them.
Then what? Experts in geriatrics and communication suggest that these guidelines for having “the talk” with an aging loved one who needs more help than can be provided at home:
Plan ahead. This isn’t a conversation you want to have off the cuff. Reactive comments risk coming off as criticisms or complaints. Better: Take some time to collect your observations and your reasons for suggesting a change in living situation. Is the person having more accidents? Has he or she received a new medical diagnosis? Are you seeing more worrisome symptoms, and if so, exactly what are they and how do they impact the person’s ability to manage everyday life? Meanwhile, visit some communities yourself and get a sense of the possibilities out there and how well they might match your loved one’s needs.
Start gingerly. Enter the conversation from the side door, so to speak. Bring up the situation in a broad, general way that gives your loved one an opening to mention any concerns he or she is having. For example, you could start by asking, “How’s your health? What’s the doctor saying about your condition these days?” Or, “Are you happy with how the house is holding up? It’s such a big place to take care of.”
If you get a response that indicates a little bit of concern about something, don’t jump in with your fixes. Instead, take a slower road. Say something like, “I see; would you like my help in looking into that?” Or, “I can imagine that’s bothersome. How could I help you?”
Mention others who have relocated. A colleague’s aunt. Your senior neighbor. A cousin. Give examples of people who have made the transition and were surprised that it was a relief to give up a big home place, or were happy to suddenly have more help, or who made new friends at a particular community. The idea isn’t to whitewash the idea unrealistically, but to illustrate the possible benefits as experienced by others.
Suggest some impromptu visits. Some people welcome the idea of checking out housing options in an abstract “in case you need it” way. They may discover that they like it better than they expected and thus be more open to a move. Or you might plan a visit to someone you know who lives in a particular community, especially during a special event that your loved one might enjoy, such as a concert or holiday meal. You could also make a more “impulsive” visit together while driving by, especially if it’s a community you’ve already checked out and think your loved one might like.
Paula Spencer Scott is senior editor at Caring.com, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Paula is a 2011 MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow and writes extensively about health and caregiving. If your loved one is daunted by the thought of downsizing, see 20 Tips to Help You Get Rid of Junk.