Handling Difficult Conversations with Aging Loved Ones

If the recent times had you spending more time with your family, you might have noticed that some aging loved ones may need to consider senior care, you are not alone.

While these issues are often brought to the forefront during the holiday season, the conversations typically happen year-round as families have to make difficult decisions about senior care. “Every New Year, we see a huge uptick in interest and demand for senior care options, including assisted living,” says Jim Rosenthal, CEO of caring.com. “It’s common for our partnering communities to see an increase of more than 30% in the number of inquiries and visits in January and February.”

Signs that your loved one may benefit from assisted living services include difficulty eating, dressing, bathing and incontinence. This is not an exhaustive list; if your loved one shows any signs that they are struggling to maintain the level of health, safety, and hygiene that they have had previously, it is likely time for your family to start the conversation about getting some type of senior care.
It can be hard for some seniors to accept that they need help—the thought of losing one’s independence or moving out of their lifelong home and into a residential care facility may make them resistant to the idea of getting care.

Many people find the conversation about assisted living to be difficult, albeit necessary. While the following guidelines will not eliminate all of the challenges associated with this topic, they can help you better handle these tough conversations and the overall process.

Do Your Research Ahead of Time
It may be tempting to make a comment to your parent or sibling as soon as you notice your loved one doesn’t move as well as they used to or has lost weight. But, don’t impulsively bring up the need for care. It will benefit all parties involved for you to take some time to think about the situation and research the types of care that you think may most benefit your loved one. Researching costs and the pros and cons of different care options, facilities, and providers will prevent you from wasting time and energy discussing an option that isn’t feasible or practical for your situation.

Start Small
Part of your research process should involve thinking about how to broach the subject of getting care as delicately as possible. It’s a good idea to start small by first asking your loved one about how they feel they’re managing housework or any health conditions. If they seem resistant to the idea of care, start by making a suggestion for a small change, such as hiring a weekly housekeeper or purchasing a medical alert system for your loved one to use.

Choose Your Words Carefully
When discussing the idea of moving to assisted living, be sure to focus on the positive aspects and the ways in which it can improve your relative’s quality of life, such as the amenities and social opportunities. Don’t repeatedly bring up what your loved one can’t do on their own, but rather all of the things that assisted living can bring to their life.

Additionally, emphasizing that you want to help your loved one and don’t want to force anything on them can help them remain calm throughout the conversation. Make sure your loved one knows that you want them to retain as much independence as possible, but also want them to be healthy and safe.

Listen to Your Loved One’s Opinions and Try to Be as Accommodating as Possible
Within reason, do your best to take your loved one’s opinions into account regarding their care. For example, if they love their current home and neighborhood, look into in-home assisted living options rather than residential care. If cost is a concern, as it is for many people, be sure to look into your state’s Medicaid waiver programs, which can give seniors more flexibility in choosing their care. While still making sure they’ll have the assistance they need, try to honor your loved one’s preferences to make the transition to assisted living, whether in or out of the home, as smooth as possible.

Be Patient
Remember that it can be very challenging for someone to accept that they need help, and don’t get angry if your loved one isn’t receptive to the idea at first. Understand that you may need to bring up the topic several times or present your loved one with several different care options until you agree on a plan that you both are comfortable with. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time. It takes many people at least two to three months to find care for their loved one following the initial conversation, and for most, it takes even longer.

In some situations, such as if your loved one has a major health condition that they can no longer manage independently, it’s important to find them quality care as fast as possible. But, when circumstances allow, taking your time to explore several options to find one that works for both of you is worth the effort.

Caring.com is a leading senior care resource and referral service for family caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Caring.com partnered with YouGov to conduct a survey of about 1,500 people to learn more about the conversations leading up to a loved one moving to assisted living. The survey covered the common health problems that may first be noticed, and the issues and difficult conversations that are ongoing throughout the year. For complete guidelines on how to talk to a loved one about assisted living, visit caring.com/senior-care-report. Through a toll-free referral line at 605.753.5304, Caring’s Family Advisors across the nation help families and seniors research and connect to the most appropriate senior care services for their specific situations.

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