5 Tips for Talking to a Parent About Assisted Living for the First Time

Avoid common communication pitfalls and set yourself up for a productive conversation

5 Tips for Talking to a Parent About Assisted Living for the First Time

Telling a parent you think it might be time to consider assisted living can be one of the scariest parts of the whole process. Regardless of how much time you’ve spent doing your homework and researching different options, anticipating how a parent might respond can create some major anxiety. 

If you’re hesitant to approach the topic, you’re not alone. However, avoiding the conversation altogether until you no longer have a choice can be devastating to your relationship. Crisis-driven conversations are usually fueled by emotion and leave families with very little time to prepare for having difficult conversations with a parent. By having the conversation early, you provide your parent with an opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process. You also allow your parent time to adjust to the thought of assisted living.  

Rarely do families find that one conversation is enough. Often, families find themselves having a series of conversations with a parent before they get to a place where everyone is on the same page.  

If you're preparing to have your first conversation with a parent about assisted living, Psychologist Mark Edinberg suggests answering two very important questions before you even begin a conversation.

  1. What are your goals? 
  2. Are you doing this with your parent or trying to do it for them?

Having the same goal — supporting your parent so they can be as independent as possible - is one of the most important talking points you can have. If the goal comes across as “it’s easier for everyone if you just move to assisted living” even if that’s not how you meant to communicate your concerns, it can leave parents feeling like a burden.

When conversations don’t quite go as planned, emotions can make it difficult to come from a place of logic. Being able to clearly and calmly explain why it is in your parent’s best interest can be a powerful reminder of just how important this conversation is.

Equally important is understanding that this process is much easier when you do it with your parent. Approaching the conversation with a desire to make this decision with your parent instead of for them makes the conversation much easier. It prevents your parent from feeling like you are telling them what they have to do — a position most parents don’t like to be in.

If you’re preparing to have the assisted living conversation with a parent, here are five more helpful tips to consider.

1. Use “I” statements.

Use terms like “I feel” or “I am worried.” Studies have shown that “I-statements” reduce hostility and defensiveness. Using “You-statements” can cause a parent to feel shame or embarrassment and can change the entire tone of the conversation.

2. Practice having the conversation.

Talk through the conversation you are preparing to have with a close friend or family member. Be sure that your talking points are easy to follow and reflect genuine concern for your parent’s well-being.

3. Be a good active listener.

One-sided conversations that bounce around from one concern to another without providing a parent an opportunity to internalize and respond can be frustrating. Give your parent time to process what you are saying and give them plenty of time to reflect and discuss as you work through concerns.

4. Avoid leaving the conversation angry.

Though tensions may rise throughout the conversation, it's important not to leave the conversation upset - especially if you are already seeing signs your parent needs more assistance. A parent’s ability to be vulnerable with you relies on trust, and leaving a conversation upset or angry can cause hesitation from a parent to ask for help the next time they need it.

5. Leave each conversation with an agreement.

Though it might take several conversations with your parent to agree on a plan to provide them more support. Keep communication open by agreeing to revisit the conversation when you or your parent need more time to process how the other one is feeling. 

For more tips and information about supporting an aging parent, including advice from aging parents themselves, download our eBook What Older Parents Really Want from Their Adult Children.

What Older Parents Really Want from Their Adult