Consider emotions when discussing assisted living

We know lots of people who have happily moved right into an assisted living facility and started new lives. For many, the burden of no longer having to maintain a house and cook for themselves is refreshing. Activities, socializing, healthy meals are all part of what makes the new environment appealing.

However, some seniors find leaving behind a house (and a neighborhood – or even a city or state) that they’ve lived in for decades to be difficult. The emotional toll this can take on people isn’t something that’s often discussed … but it should be.

If you plan to talk with your parent about assisted living in 2020, these are the emotional components of the conversation that you should include: 

Don’t delay conversations, but don’t rush into action

Your parent is getting older. You know it. They know it. Most people around them know it. They’re slowing down, possibly falling, maybe forgetting things. 

You’ve gone to funerals of family and friends with them. You’ve seen them spend more and more time in the recliner in front of the TV and less doing activities they once loved. You know that it’s not healthy, and maybe not even safe, for them to live alone. 

You’ve decided it would be best for them to move into an assisted living facility. So you need to start a dialogue. Don’t wait. 

But chances are that you’ve been thinking about this longer than them. You may have come to a conclusion quicker than them as well. So be sure to ease into the conversation. Do not begin this discussion with what you think, or with an explanation of why an assisted living facility would be better than their house. Start by asking questions — and paying attention to the answers. This will show you the path for how to proceed. Take tours of facilities, talk with friends of theirs who’ve moved to assisted living, find ways to keep the conversation alive.

Once a decision has been made, give your parent the emotional space they need. It’s not your job to always represent the bright side. Acknowledge that this might be hard. Allow them to grieve their past so they can be excited about their future.

Be firm but understanding

If you’ve noticed your parent is struggling with memory, there are a few things you need to do that aren’t going to be easy. 

First, you need to make an appointment with their doctor, who may recommend a specialist. The doctor may also recommend taking away their keys and limiting the amount of time they’re home alone. These things can seem like huge blows to their independence and intrusions on the decisions they’ve been making for themselves their entire adult life. The whole process can signal a role-reversal that can be confusing and uncomfortable. 

For their safety, you’ve got to be firm, but that doesn’t mean you have to be rigid. For example, you may need to spend more time at their house, but don’t make every visit seem like a check-in. Watch movies together, tell stories or jokes, or talk about the weather, but don’t turn every discussion into an examination of their physical and mental health. And when it’s time to take away the keys to their car, you’ve got to be swift for safety’s sake — but that doesn’t mean you have to sell the car immediately. Ask them if they’d like for you to take them for a drive (with you driving, of course.) If you’ve got time, go on a road trip together. Talk to them about the memories they made in the car. Get them to tell you about their first car.

Moving out and moving on

We recently met a man whose mother had four Christmas trees prior to moving into assisted living. She loves the holiday season, but he knew that four Christmas trees would be a lot to lug into her new room and wouldn’t quite fit with her new life. So they decided that she would donate two of them, send one to work her son and bring one – the smallest one – with her. Sometimes these conversations can be hard, but she was excited to think about the joy her trees would bring to other people. 

You may be surprised that once your parent has made the decision to move into assisted living, the easier it can become to let go. It is your job to help be a guide (and not a boss) through this process. While it can be frustrating and burdensome, always try to remind yourself that it’s not easy for anyone and you don’t have to do it alone. We would be honored to help.