Talking about the transition to senior living can be a challenging subject whether you’re considering it for yourself, or you need to bring it up to a family member. Here are 15 tips to foster a healthy, successful conversation about long term senior care:
- Prepare beforehand and do your homework.
Before you broach the subject of senior care, prepare beforehand. Take the initiative by educating yourself. Do some research to learn the basic information about assisted living and long term care options for seniors. This knowledge will help you through the conversation to ease your loved one’s mind and quell any fears.
Many questions may arise when beginning the discussion of senior care like cost, facility options, selling a home, downsizing, separation from the family, etc. Anticipating these questions and having answers prepared will contribute to a more productive and positive discussion.
- Write down a list of your concerns.
Put your thoughts down on paper and create a list of concerns. This can help you be well-articulated when it’s time to discuss these difficult topics in person.
The prospect of senior care can be extremely emotional for all involved and cause conflict. By writing down and organizing your thoughts, you can consider what to say ahead of time so you don’t get caught up in the moment and say the wrong thing.
Think about the reasons why you think it’s time for your loved one to consider long term senior care. What are your worries?
- Is their medical condition worsening?
- Are they frail or prone to falls? Has their mobility reduced? Is their home no longer a safe place for them?
- Are they increasingly isolated?
- Do they have difficulty with day-to-day activities such as cleaning the house, paying bills, cooking, or running errands?
- Are they showing signs of cognitive decline or dementia symptoms (such as wandering or personality/behavior changes)?
- Are they having trouble remembering to take their medications or making mistakes with taking medications as prescribed? Are they forgetful about regular safety measures such as turning the oven off or leaving the front door open?
- Do they have difficulty with basic functions like dressing themselves, bathing, or going to the bathroom?
Be honest when writing this list but be careful how you convey your worries to them in the actual conversation. Remember to be respectful. It’s a sensitive situation and they might feel defensive.
Always communicate from a place of love and concern for their well-being.
- Ask permission first to prepare your loved one.
Ask your loved one for permission first to have a discussion about long term care. This act conveys that you respect them and their wishes. Whether they are in immediate need of senior care or if it’s a distant likelihood that needs to be planned for.
Because it’s a big transition and tough topic to approach, asking permission gives them time to think it over and reflect. This heads up can help make the idea of long term care seem less alarming. It also allows you to test the waters to see how they initially react to the idea.
Plan to begin the more serious conversation on a different day than when you first bring up the subject.
- Choose the right time and environment.
Timing is everything! You want to be able to focus entirely on the conversation and have plenty of time to dive into it. Pick a time when everyone is calm and well-rested. Plan for a large block of time with no interruptions.
Choose a quiet place without distractions. A private setting usually works best.
- Talk in person.
We highly recommend talking to your loved one about senior care in person. At least for the first conversation. Trying to communicate over the phone would only make it unnecessarily more challenging.
If it’s likely they will be reluctant to discuss long term care, consider if it would be beneficial to have another party present. A person who is less involved with the situation can bring up difficult topics in an unemotional manner, de-escalating conflict. Whether someone personal like another relative or family friend, or someone neutral such as a doctor or religious figure.
A third party can help navigate the conversation and burden some of the foundational legwork without risking strain on a personal relationship with the individual.
- Set the right tone.
Try to start on a positive note and in a good mood. Connecting with one another first will help facilitate a more collaborative discussion.
Remember that this is a two-way conversation, so be respectful, not critical. Don’t jump right into the problems and potential solutions as that may overwhelm or threaten your loved one. Avoid lecturing them.
Watch your tone. The tone of your voice matters more than you may think. Make a conscious effort to speak calmly and maintain a pleasant demeanor.
Even if your loved one gets angry, don’t respond by raising your voice or speaking harshly. Anger can beget anger which only leads to frustration and won’t be productive. Respond to their anger with patience and compassion.
- Lead with your observations, concerns, and feelings.
It’s important to earnestly lead with your observations, concerns, and feelings. Let it come from a place of love.
This advice applies to all participants in the discussion. Whether you are suggesting long term care for a senior or it is being brought up to you.
- Actively listen.
One of the best things you can do is to actively listen.
Pay attention to your loved one’s concerns and wishes for their future. What they’re sharing with you is important. Listening closely will help you understand what is uniquely best for them when it comes to long term care.
After sharing your own concerns and thoughts, allow them to respond or ask any questions without interruptions. Be a good listener! Show them the respect of being fully heard and understood.
Acknowledge your loved one’s role in decision making about their own care. Even if they disagree with you, a healthier dialogue will come from active listening and a strong effort to communicate effectively.
- Empathy, not sympathy.
Older adults don’t want to be pitied, especially not by their children, family, or friends. Practice empathy, not sympathy when talking to your elderly loved one. Remember this is a difficult circumstance they’re facing as long term care becomes a necessity in their life. Be extra sensitive to how they may be feeling during this time. Kindness and understanding are crucial in hard situations such as these.
Accepting long term senior care means giving up their independent life (or at least a large part of that freedom). It might even mean selling and saying goodbye to their home. Be compassionate of the fears and frustrations they have. Have empathy.
Emphasize yourself as an advocate for your loved one. Be clear that you care for their well-being and want to maintain their quality of life. Remind them that they aren’t alone and together you can work to find the best solutions and make the right decisions.
- Avoid information overload.
Don’t get caught up with statistics and sharing your research. Too much information can be overwhelming for your loved one.
Sharing some basic and pertinent information is great but don’t go overboard, especially during the first conversation. While you might be inclined to focus on logical points and facts, please remember this is an emotional decision for the senior entering long term care.
- Stay positive.
The power of positivity does wonders! Try to stay positive throughout the discussion even if you’re met with resistance. Remind your loved one that you care about them and that means caring about their well-being and best interests. You want them to be as healthy and happy as possible in a safe environment.
Focusing on the benefits of senior living can aid positivity. Be ready to share the advantages of assisted living and senior communities. Such as:
- Not having to cook their own meals.
- Less household chores and responsibilities.
- The opportunity to socialize.
- Staff will be there to support and help at all times.
Don’t be discouraged if the first conversation doesn’t go well. It is common for seniors to have resistance towards long term care. Plan to talk about it again and be persistent about discussing it, without pressuring them.
- Follow your loved one’s cues.
Pay attention and follow your loved one’s cues while conversing. Address their emotions, thoughts, and concerns.
If they’re anxious, help calm them by being reassuring and positive.
If they’re resistant, focus on tangible solutions to the problems they face.
Reflective listening can be useful in this situation as well. This style of communication means understanding both what a person says and what a person feels, and then relaying this back to him or her in your own words. Reflective listening is an effective way to convey that you completely understand and hear someone, making them feel supported.
- Don’t rush.
Don’t put pressure on your loved one to make an immediate decision.
Once you have become more educated on long term care options and started to talk about it, you may feel eager to get the actual process going. Don’t rush. Your loved one may need more time to process before moving forward.
- Keep the conversation going.
It may take a series of conversations to reach a mutual agreement and understanding with your loved one about long term care.
Plan to talk again… and again. Understand that it’s okay for the process to take awhile. Don’t push for a decision right away. Instead, let the concerns and discussions percolate.
Accepting and entering long term senior care is complicated and usually can’t be wrapped up neatly and quickly. (Unless in some circumstances with time-sensitivity or imminent danger.)
Keep an open dialogue about senior care options. Be sure to write down their specific questions or concerns and follow up with answers the next time you talk. Let the conversation be ongoing.
- Make a plan.
End the conversation with a plan and decide the next steps to take.
Even if there are multiple conversations about long term care, don’t leave any of them open-ended. Walk away from each with specific plans of action for either you or your loved one. Whether they are small or big steps, it’s important to make a plan.
- Scheduling a follow-up chat after they’ve had more time to think.
- Visiting potential senior communities and care facilities together.
- Including another trusted individual (like a family member or friend) to facilitate discussion and bring a new perspective to the situation.
- Figuring out finances (such as the options available and expected costs).
At Helping Hands for Seniors, we understand that finding the right senior care for your loved ones is an involved and emotional choice. For over a decade, we have been placing elderly residents in quality housing facilities.
Please feel free to contact us directly: