You are currently viewing How to Start a Senior Living Discussion with Aging Parents

How to Start a Senior Living Discussion with Aging Parents

Episode #42January 19, 2021

There may come a time when you’re faced with the conversation of talking with your aging parents about moving into a senior living or assisted living community. Many people dread this conversation.

Even simply starting the conversation can bring up all sorts of worry and feelings of guilt and shame.

If you’re facing this situation, it can help to prepare. In today’s episode, I share:

  • 6 Strategies for setting yourself up for success with the senior living discussion
  • Examples of how to start the conversation
  • Tips for managing escalation of emotions during this talk
  • How to go about finding senior housing or assisted living communities
  • The importance of taking care of yourself through it all.

Here’s a peek inside the episode:

  • [02:22] Strategy 1: Prepare for the right time and place for this conversation
  • [03:34] Strategy 2: Start this conversation earlier than you think you need to
  • [04:50] Strategy 3: Have this conversation during a neutral time
  • [05:39] Strategy 4: Choose in your family who might be the best messenger
  • [06:38] Strategy 5: Ask your loved one about their wishes.
  • [08:28] Strategy 6: Work together as a team


Are you considering moving your older loved one into a senior living community? This can be really stressful and even starting the conversation can bring up all sorts of worry and concern and feelings of guilt and shame. It can really help if you prepare for having this conversation.

So today, I'm going to share several strategies to help you prepare for talking with your older loved one, about moving into a senior living community. And then also how to go about having that conversation, and lots of tips there.

I'm Dr. Regina Koepp. I'm a board certified clinical psychologist and I specialize with older adults and families. I created the psychology of aging podcast to answer some of the most common questions I get about aging, questions about mental health and wellness, changes in the brain like with dementia, relationships, and sex, caregiving, and even end of life. Like I say, in my therapy group, no topic is off topic, we just have to have a healthy way of talking about it. So if you're an older adult, or caring for one, you're in the right place. Let's get started.

Maybe you've thought about this and dreaded it. Maybe you've thought over and over in your mind how you're going to bring up this conversation with your older loved one. I'm talking about the conversation, you know, the conversation about moving your older loved one into a senior living community? How do you even go about having this conversation? Today I am going to share expert strategies. So I've been working with older adults and families for close to 20 years. Expert strategies on having a conversation with your older loved one about moving into a senior living community. I'm going to do this by sharing six strategies for preparing and having this conversation. I'm going to share conversation starters, I'm going to share some ways to go about finding Senior Living communities and your older loved ones coming up where they live now or where they plan to live. And I'm also going to share some final thoughts about how to navigate this challenging situation.

So the first thing to do is to prepare for the right time and place for this conversation. So let's talk about the timing. Don't wait until there's a crisis start this conversation as early as possible. And here's why this is important. People don't communicate well, when there is a crisis happening. Oftentimes people need to move into long term or senior living communities when they're not doing well, or after a major medical or major mental health event or maybe worsening of a dementia process. And so if you wait until there's a crisis to have this conversation, you're not going to be in a situation to make your best decisions or more most informed decisions. And one of the challenges that I see families facing is that they'll sometimes move into a senior living community because they have to make a quick decision. And they don't have options, because they have to decide to move to someplace right away, when if they had taken the time to prepare in advance and have these conversations, they might be a little bit better set up to facilitate the move, facilitate the discussion. So don't wait until there's a crisis.

The second is to start this conversation earlier than you think you need to. And the reason this is so important is because it really allows families to figure out how to navigate these really difficult conversations. Moving into a senior living community often means a transition and your older loved ones older adulthood. And there is a lot of fear that goes into that transition for both the older adults and you the potentially the adult child or you know, a family member. And so if you start the conversation sooner than you think that you need to it kind of helps you move through those bumps and peaks and valleys and figure out how to communicate about this when it's actually not a crisis situation. And so it can help you figure out what's important, what's not important. Also, it allows the older adult to be involved in the decision making early on, so that they don't feel like the rug is pulled out from them later on down the road if there is a crisis, or if something major changes in their medical or mental health functioning. So that's really important is to start this conversation sooner rather than later.

The third strategy is to have this conversation during a neutral time. So don't have this conversation when you know things are really heated, don't have this conversation. When you're at a wedding, there's time for celebration, there's time and family is for struggle. And if you can really try to fit this in during a neutral time, I get it. Sometimes you bring up a conversation and your older loved one might shut you down. Your older loved one might also bring up a conversation is not a good time for you, and you might shut them down. So I would encourage you all to kind of schedule a time where you anticipate that you're going to be talking about this and having this conversation or maybe including this in some of the overall care planning for older adulthood.

Fourth is to choose in your family who might be the best messenger. This is really important. I often hear in families that, oh, when my older loved one is struggling, we talk we have my brother call, or I'm the one who often has the best rule, I'm the one who can have these difficult conversations with my older loved ones, or my aging parents, usually that falls on me and I can have this conversation, or my dad's brother or my mom's best friend. So choose who the messenger will be for having this conversation. There are some people who have a stronger bond or a more secure kind of connection to your loved one. And that might be a healthier person to have this conversation with. It doesn't, you know, it's not going to be pretty imperfect, it's going to be hard. And, of course, I'm sure you know that. And so the, the more that you can do to help set this up for success, the better.

Fifth is to ask your loved one about their wishes. So instead of telling your loved one, how it's going to be invite them to have a conversation about what their wishes are. I often hear families say and older adults say I am not going to move out of my home, I'm going to I want to stay in my home for as long as possible. And and that makes sense. Most older adults do age in their home. There can come times however, that maybe that's not the best option, maybe the older adult needs more supervision, if especially if they have dementia, maybe they need more care, then you can afford to bring into the home maybe it's a little more affordable if you're on Medicaid to move into a personal care home or an assisted living community. And so at as much as possible, include your older loved one in this decision making process. It's very painful when older adults are kind of in that gray zone, especially if there's a dementia process happening, when they're in this gray zone of sometimes they can make certain decisions about their life and not other decisions about their life, they don't realize how much care they actually need. And that can cause a lot of distress for families. And that's where having these conversations earlier rather than later are really helpful. The challenges if there is a dementia process, the older adult might not remember those conversations. And that's kind of part of the nature of a dementia disorder for some folks and many families. And that's also what makes it so hard. And so just please know you're not alone with that. But as much as you can ask your older loved one, what their own wishes are about where they'd like to live and what sorts of environments they'd like to live in. That's really important and can be so helpful.

And finally, the sixth strategy is to work together as a team. I if you're in a relationship, you know how important this is like a romantic partnership. I know sometimes I'm frustrated with my husband. And we get into an argument and we disagree about something especially like around the house or parenting, we have little kids, we have a three year old and a five year old during the pandemic. So things get pretty heated, right. And I have to remind myself, okay, we're a team. We're a team, we're a team. And the more I can remind myself that we're a team, the more flexible I become in my own thinking and what I'm willing to do to help with whatever we're struggling with. So I'm going to encourage you to do the same with your older loved one you and your older level in our team, this is going to be one of many conversations that you were gonna have with your older loved one in their older adulthood. So the more you can imagine working together as a team, the better I get it, it takes multiple people to make a team work. And so if your older loved one is struggling, and they're not necessarily able to meet you there, it's gonna be hard and, and I'll be here for you. I'm going to give you lots of tips and strategies all along the road. So hang in there, do the best you can and as you can work together as a team.

Okay, so now that we've set up how to have this conversation, or kind of the best timing in the place for this, I want to share with you some important conversation starters. So here are some conversations starters to try like how do you even begin This up. So here's some examples. How's the house? It must be hard to keep everything up and in good shape. Are you still doing all the yard? work yourself? How's your health? How was your last doctor's visit? What's the doctor saying about how you're doing? Are you willing to share that with me? How's the car? Are you still driving into the city or driving up to the country on the weekends for a nice drive? How's that going?

I am pretty bold myself, you know, I have a pretty transparent relationship with my mom. And I, as a bold person might even say directly to my mom, because that's the sort of style of our relationship, I might say directly to her Have you thought about where you'd like to live?

I'm pretty confident my mom would say I want to stay living in my own house. And I think we've had this conversation before. But I think that's a pretty important conversation to have, and you have your own style with your parent or your loved one. And so use your own style, don't be forced to write, but try to kind of fold in some, some conversation starters. And this is back to where, you know, having this conversation earlier, rather than later is really important. Have you thought about where you'd like to live? if things change if you're doing advanced directives, and you're deciding, alright, what do you want to happen? If a certain medical event happens to your body? How do you want doctors to respond? You might also include in there, as we're going through this, your advanced directive, can we also have a conversation about where you'd like to live if things start to change and how we can start to navigate that? Alright, I know that it can be very emotional to have these conversations. And sometimes when we have new conversations with your older loved ones, it brings up all sorts of old relationship dynamics. And so in the show notes, I'm going to link to some recommendations I have for having difficult conversations, emotionally intense conversations with our older loved one. So I hope that you check those out.

Now that you've started this conversation, maybe you want to take this conversation with your older loved one a step further. If you do, here are some ways to take this conversation a step further, it can be really helpful to get a sense of what's out there. So we have this perception in our mind that a senior living community is essentially a nursing home, like an old folks home where old people go to die. And that's this old kind of view and stereotype that we have about senior living. And there are so many senior living options that are available to you that are not that that is typically that's called a skilled nursing facility or a nursing home. And that's typically like 24 seven nursing care, which your older loved one likely does not need.

In fact, less than 5% of older adults actually live in skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes. So there are, it's really important to become aware of all of the other kinds of living environments available to you and your older loved one to find out what those variety of living environments are. I'm gonna link to a caring for aging parents checklist in the show notes and downloading that checklist, you'll get a list of all of the senior living environments, you'll also get lots of conversation starters, and so many other checklists that you can use in that guide, which like I said, I'll link to in the show notes. So check it out. But you want to get a sense for what senior living environments are available to your older loved one in your community. And so you're going to need to know what city or state your older loved one is planning to live in. So once you have a sense of where they're going to live, there are some ways to find out how to, you know, discover what's available in that community.

In terms of senior living, you can contact your local area agency on aging by putting in the URL www dot eldercare I'll link to that in my show notes as well. And then you can ask them for resources around senior living in your older loved ones. Community. You can also contact a senior living advisor in your older loved ones community. And then you can also go online to places like and They help to find Senior Living communities for families and I believe it's no charge to the family but just double check that out. As we're wrapping up

I want to share some final thoughts and perhaps some of the most important tips of all of these tips I'm sharing today. The first is to really as your as your embarking on helping your older loved one move into a long term care or senior living community try to limit other stressors in life. So as much as possible, sometimes life just happens. And it's very stressful, despite everything that we do to kind of mitigate that stress. Do your best though if you can try to avoid other stressors. And so I often hear my older loved one, we want to move our older loved one into a long term care community right when their spouse dies. And that's like two losses all at once. If it's at all possible, try to limit lots of stressors happening at the same time, that can really help.

Also, it's important to know that this is, for many older adults, a really tough transition. And for many families to for you to you might experience a lot of guilt around this, like, I always thought that I could take care of them. But I can't, I'm not in a position in my life to do that, or actually our relationship, it wouldn't be good for our relationship. Or maybe it just wouldn't be good for me, it would chisel me to the to my bones. And so if you know all of those things about your limits, that's important too. And it's okay to have your own boundaries around this, you're going to have a lot of feelings. And I'll have an episode on help helping you to process all of that, too. But for now, acknowledge that this is a big transition. And there are going to be a lot of emotions that go into this big transition for you. And for your older loved one.

And so one of the most important tips that I want to share is that it's really important to give yourself and your older loved one, space and grace to adjust to this idea, which is why to have this conversation early. And then when you actually do move to moving in are changing your living environment saying goodbye to your home. These are all really emotional things. And so you and your older loved one are going to need some space and grace to adjust. So please just just know that acknowledge that and hold space for yourself and your older loved one.

And a couple of other reminders to please keep your older loved one involved in decision making about where they're going to live. As much as possible. This can get complicated, especially with dementia. But even with early stages of dementia disorders, people with dementia can still be involved in in this decision making process. And it's important because this is where they are going to be living. And the more involved they are in the decision making, the easier it will be to adjust it will be their decision. And so it will be easier to process and wrap their head around and adjust to this new living environment.

And finally, you don't have to be Pollyanna about it. You know, this is a challenging situation for most families. And so what I will say is to try to acknowledge how hard it is. So don't sugarcoat it, acknowledge how hard it is. And then also try to maintain a sense of positivity, and hope that things will go well.

Last week, I met with a senior living adviser named candy cone, and she shared an important story or personal story about her own dad who had lived with bipolar disorder. And his need to move into a senior living community, actually, her parents needed to move together. And so we talked about some of the challenges of moving older loved ones with mental health conditions into a senior living community. If you'd like to learn more about that, I really encourage you to check out that episode from last week. And I'll link to it in my show notes as well.

Above all, I hope that you hear, you can do this, this is hard. Many people have done this before you and many people will do this after you and you can do it as well. I tell families that I work with that these are some of the most challenging situations that families are faced with making, helping their older loved one move out of a lifetime home out of a stage in life where they could predict what was going to happen for as you know, as much as we can predict where their life was predictable, for the most part. And these are big transitions because not only are they moving out of their own home into a new community or a senior living community, or an apartment or something that doesn't feel like their home. They're also moving into a new stage and their older adulthood. And so there's some pretty big emotional transitions happening. And so the the steadier you are the more access to information like this that you have, the better. And so please, the take home message here is to also please take care of yourself, because you are going to need to be firmly rooted in who you are and your own self and your own self care so that you can weather the storm that you're going to be going through now or in the future.

And what do I mean by rooted down I mean Like a tree, the trees that have strong solid roots are the ones that can weather the storm and don't tend to snap when there's a storm, so focus on you also in your own health also, that is really, really important. If you liked this episode, be sure to hit the thumbs up and subscribe so that other people can find this information too. If you know anything, as a caregiver or as somebody who's helping your aging parents, you know how hard it is to actually find information about how to do all of this with your older loved one and maintain respect and dignity at the same time.

Don't forget to download that caring for aging parents checklist. I'll link to it in the show notes. It gives you lots of great conversation starters, a list of all the senior living communities that I mentioned in this episode, and so much more. That's all for today. Now it's your turn. Join the movement to include older adults in conversations about mental health and wellness. It's simple. All you have to do is subscribe, leave a review and share this episode with others so that they can be part of the conversation to one last thing a special thanks to Jhazzmyn Joiner psychology of aging podcast in turn for all you do. Lots of love to you and your family.

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