You’ve put it off for as long as you could, but it’s time to have “the talk.” As you think about what to say, your hands get sweaty and you feel butterflies in your stomach. Don’t worry. You’re not alone. When it comes to talking about assisted living with our parents, most of us don’t know what to expect. Will they be upset or scared? Is this really the best option? Am I doing enough for them?
It becomes easier to avoid the discussion altogether because we’re uncomfortable with the unknowns. But the sooner you’re able to have this discussion, the better. And by keeping a few tips in mind, you can make it a little easier on everyone.
Recognize the process
While we tend to build up the assisted living conversation as one big, serious discussion, it’s actually a series of conversations over time. There’s a lot that goes into choosing assisted living… more than just choosing the right location. There’s the legal and financial matters that have to be resolved, the involvement of various family members that needs to be determined, and the settling of real estate matters to name a few. And that can’t all be resolved in one discussion. Even if you could figure out several things at once, it would most likely make the discussion too overwhelming for everybody involved. Knowing that there are multiple conversations in the process will help take the pressure off as you navigate all the moving pieces.
So take your time with the process. Start small. One conversation at a time. Get everybody used to talking about these issues. Not everything will be resolved after one talk, and that’s okay.
Now that you know you will be having a series of conversations, you can prepare ahead of time. It’s a good idea to jot down some key points and questions you want to remember to bring up. Rank those in order of importance. Each ranking can become its own conversation along the path. If a couple rankings are related, they can be grouped together.
You can also approach your list by considering your desired outcome for each discussion. Once you know that, you can pull in your key points and questions that relate to that outcome. For example, your first desired outcome may just be finding out your parents’ needs and wishes. Your second desired outcome might be to learn more about the financial situation you’re working with. This will help you structure each conversation so that you stay on track and work in manageable pieces.
Be sure to also do your homework about the various assisted living options in your area here in Maryland so you can bring tangible information to the table. Have pictures ready, reviews handy, price comparisons, and a list of amenities available. Having the facts ready can help you keep the discussion more objective rather than overly emotional. And don’t forget to notify all family members that should be included in the discussion ahead of time so they can be present.
Keep it light and positive
It’s easy to view assisted living as the end of one chapter of life. But it can also be a great beginning. Yes, this decision is important and signifies a major life change, but it doesn’t have to be doom and gloom when you discuss it. Start out by asking what your parents envision for themselves in their older years. Chances are, many assisted living options can provide that. You’ll be able to show them exactly how each can meet their vision.
And beginning these conversations long before your parents ever need long-term care is the easiest way to keep things light. When there’s no immediate urgency, you have the luxury of exploring all kinds of possibilities for the life your parents see themselves living in their older years. The longer you wait, though, the more pressure you’ll feel to make a rushed decision.
Walk a mile in their shoes
The most important thing to remember in these conversations is to lead with empathy. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and recognize that this decision comes with a lot of emotional weight for them. Not only are you discussing a change in location, but they may have worries about a loss of control and independence. It’s important to listen to those fears. When it comes time to explore various assisted living options, you can show them the ways in which each one supports their independence, not limits it.
And don’t forget that none of us like to feel as though we are being dictated to. Your parents are no different. Create a partnership, where everyone can contribute their thoughts and ideas. You may be taking the lead on their care as they continue to age, but remember that they have spent much of their lives in that position. They have insights, wishes, and experience that need to be taken into account. When everybody has a voice in the process, everyone can have greater peace of mind about the final decision.
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