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How to Bring up “The Talk” With Aging Parents

Talking with your parents or elderly loved one about moving to an assisted living or a nursing home can be one of the toughest conversations you will have. The following steps can help you plan for this important conversation and start getting a plan in place.

Assess the situation

  • Living Situation – What is your loved one’s current living situation? Are they at home alone or do they live with family? Are they alone or with their partner? If they are living alone, this could raise concerns if they are unable to get help when they need it. If they are living with another aging partner, that person may not be able to provide the care they need either.
  • Personality and social preferences – You also will want to consider their personality and social tendencies. Are they an extrovert or introvert? Do they take pride in their independence and achievements? Knowing their personality and their social preferences also will help guide the conversation, so you will know that points to highlight.
  • Health condition and prognosis – Take their current and future health condition into consideration as well. Can they move independently? Are they battling a chronic health condition? Do they take multiple medications and need help managing them? Having a good idea of their current and potential future health needs will help you determine which options would be best to explore.

Do your homework

  • Get smart about senior living options – There are many different options for senior living including staying at home and having a home health provider come and provide assistance, an independent senior living community, assisted living and full skilled nursing for those that need 24/7 nursing care. You also may only want to move your loved one once, so looking at communities that provide gradually increasing levels of care could be a good option to explore too. This Senior Living Guide offers some insight into the different options available.
  • Paying for care – While you may not have any insight into your loved one’s financial situation, it will be good to gather some facts about the different ways to pay for care. Most independent and assisted living communities are private pay only but usually are all inclusive of utilities, food and some transportation. Once you crunch the numbers on a specific community, you may find that the cost is comparable to what they currently spend on their current home. Visit our Financial Considerations page for more information.

Put yourself in their shoes

How would you want your children or loved ones to approach you about moving into a setting with more assistance? Probably very gingerly and respectfully. While most people are proud and like to maintain their independence, we all know we are mortal and eventually need more help at some point. Take into consideration how you would want to approach about this subject. It could be good to role play with another loved one who knows the person you are approaching about this to toss around the best approach. Helping maintain your loved one’s dignity and pride will be of utmost importance and can determine how well or how poorly this conversation will go.

Consider the messenger

As a child or younger loved one, you may not be the best messenger to guide this conversation. If your loved one has friends, cousins or siblings who have walked this journey too, they might be the best people to bring up the topic. They might live in an assisted living or skilled nursing community where they would enjoy being around your loved one more too.

A third party also could be a great messenger. The older generation typically responds better to people who have some position of authority versus a “youngin” like you, so talk with your loved one’s pastor, physician or another person who they respect to see how best they might recommend the loved one is approached. They even may be willing to help broach the topic with them, which would alleviate the pressure and lead to a more amicable outcome too.

Test the waters

At the next family gathering or in your next phone conversation, casually bring up the topic of their living situation. You can begin with a, “How are things going here at the house?” or “I see you might be having a little difficulty getting around?” Let it be an open-ended question, so they can share what’s going on with you in a non-threatening manner. Bringing the topic up in a direct manner likely will cause them to get defensive or not be as honest about their situation as you need them to be, so proceed with caution.

If you can ask questions that are open, they can share more freely. If you can guide them to make this their decision versus yours, that will help you get better cooperation. They will feel like part of the decision-making process and maintain their pride and dignity through the process.

Lead with respect

Your loved one has lived a life likely full of a lot of accomplishments. They’ve had a career and likely raised a family. Their life has been full, and coming to the realization that it is entering the twilight phase can be a sober reality they are not willing to face. Most of us would not be, and that is okay.

Beginning the conversation looking with pride together at all they have done can help provide a foundation of respect for what will be next on their journey. The path likely will not get easier, so the more you can celebrate all they’ve seen, done and accomplished, the better.

Explore options together

Because you already have done your homework on the different options, once they are open and willing to have this conversation, you can talk about what might be the best way to approach this. They already may have considered what to do, or they could be totally unprepared. Knowing where they are and which options would best suit their possible financial, social and health condition needs will help guide the next part of the conversation, so be ready and informed.

Agree on a timeline

Depending on their health condition, mobility or other factors, you can talk through the timeline together. If their health requires more immediate assistance, that could speed the timeline up significantly. If they only need moderate assistance today, you can consider that in the potential timeline and follow up on an agreed upon timeline to touch base and make sure the different benchmarks for when you both need to consider more assistance together.

Making the move to a new living situation already can be a disruptive event for young, health people, so recognizing that a lot of other emotions and factors will play into this big decision will help you be sensitive, thoughtful and have the best opportunity for a productive conversation about assisted living or skilled nursing with your loved one.

Above all, know that you are not alone in this decision. There are many resources available to help guide both you and your loved one. Remember – it’s okay to ask for help.

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