Having the Conversation With a Loved One About Senior Living

When you were young, your parents may have had “the talk” with you. Well, there is a different “talk” to be had when your parents or other aging loved ones appear to need more help with daily living. And this talk can be just as awkward and difficult — maybe more so.

Most older adults don’t want to face the need for moving into an assisted living facility or nursing home. No one likes admitting that they can’t do the simple tasks, like laundry or driving or shopping, that they have been doing their entire life. And most never want to leave the home they have lived in and raised a family in. Those thoughts are more than difficult — in fact, they can be frightening.

That’s what makes it a tough conversation to have, says John Mastronardi, executive director at The Nathaniel Witherell, a short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility in Greenwich, Connecticut. “For someone experiencing physical or cognitive decline, it’s difficult to accept that we can’t do some of the things we used to do and took for granted,” he says.

[READ: Steps for Choosing the Right Senior Living Facility.]

Here are some tips to make the conversation a bit easier.

Talk to Siblings First

If you have brothers or sisters, be sure you all agree that it’s time to have the senior care discussion. Settle any disagreements before you talk to your loved one. If you can’t agree, SeniorLiving.org suggests you contact a social worker or elder care specialist to help you all resolve your issues. A united front is important to soothe your loved one’s objections.

Have the Talk Sooner, Rather Than Later

Don’t wait for a medical or other emergency to force you to address the issue. It’s much harder to make good decisions in a moment of crisis. Procrastination is not helpful because you never know when an aging loved one may need help. This also lets the elder be an active part of the discussion. “Take an ‘us’ point of view, we are in this together,” says Maria Hood, director of admissions at United Hebrew of New Rochelle, a continuing care campus in Westchester County, New York. “We are a family. You raised me, now it’s my turn to help you.”

Be Prepared for Ongoing Talks

If your loved one isn’t ready, don’t push it. Suggest that you revisit the topic on a regular basis — say, every six months — just to check in with them and see if their views have changed. “Approach your loved one with respect, and if the person is not ready, you have to back it off,” Hood says. “Chances are, this won’t be one conversation. It will be several over time. And that’s OK.”

[READ: What Activities Are Best for Seniors in Assisted Living or a Nursing Home?]

Know the Various Senior Living Options

There are different senior living options, including an assisted living facility, nursing home and continuing care campus. Your loved one may need minimal assistance at first — maybe a part-time home health aide — but more daily help or even skilled medical care later in life. Be well-versed on what each option can and cannot offer, and which might be best for your loved one. Consider gathering brochures or other marketing materials to show examples in your area that might appeal to them.

Focus on the Positives

Highlight the positives of a potential move to senior living rather than focusing on any negatives. “Don’t make the conversation about their limitations,” Mastronardi says. “That will only remind someone they were once vital and energetic but now seeing limitations. Those are very difficult things to come to grips with. Make the conversation about possibilities and supportiveness.”

In other words, don’t stress what your loved one can’t do anymore: “Mom, you shouldn’t drive. Dad, you can’t climb a ladder anymore.” Instead, present senior living as something that makes their life better. No more shoveling snow. Meals available when you don’t feel like cooking. The security of on-site health care if and when you need it. If they object, be understanding. Remember, no one likes to admit their limitations “It’s important for people to retain autonomy. They have the right to say no,” Hood says.

[READ: What Is the Best Way to Research Assisted Living Facilities?]

Stress Their Involvement in This Decision

You may tell them you notice that they seem to be having a harder time taking care of things and you want to help. “Then ask them, how do they see themselves needing help,” Mastronardi says. “Ask, ‘If you had a wish list, what kind of help would you like?'” Maybe it’s getting groceries delivered. Or maybe they would like somebody to remind them to take medications. “You open possibilities that this might be helpful to them, and you empower them to be a partner in their own care, that they still have some independence and control over it, which they do.” Work with your loved one to determine exactly what kind of help they need and want, he says, and what setting would work best to meet those needs.

Ask the Experts for Help

“When a family member calls me and says, ‘I don’t know anything,’ I say, ‘Of course you don’t. That’s OK. That’s what I’m here for,” Hood says. Call your local elder care facilities and ask for advice. Or turn to national organizations like AARP, the National Council on Aging, SeniorLiving.org, APlaceforMom.com or your loved one’s physicians. “This way, you are not doing it alone. You have experts supporting you through this process,” Hood says.

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Having the Conversation With a Loved One About Senior Living originally appeared on usnews.com

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