Tips for talking to loved ones about assisted living/placement

In my Psychology world, I’m often one of the first people to start discussions with my patients about elder care and variable benefits of placement as an option for improved quality of life in aging. Along with my Social Work psychologist colleagues, we wrote the following article addressed to our compassionate caregivers, which I hope will help someone here too!

We know aging can be a frightening word, but it can also be a period of immense growth, wisdom, and personal development. Understanding and supporting the needs of your loved one can make this stage of life a deeply rewarding one — for you and for them — but it can be difficult to start conversations about changes, especially involving matters of independence and change in living situation.

To help navigate successful communication with your loved one about important life changes, please consider the following suggestions:

  • Time and timing: Important issues like moving to assisted living are very sensitive subjects best discussed when you’re not rushed and preoccupied. These issues take time to resolve — and often require more than one discussion. Try to ensure you’re in a calm emotional state before starting the discussion, and remember to assume your loved one’s resistance, frustration, or confusion may be fear: fear of losing control, fear of death, fear of being abandoned…Reassure him/her of the securities that lie ahead.
  • Listen: Be sure to pay attention to your loved one’s ideas and fears that may be getting expressed directly or indirectly. Even if you’ve already made up your mind that your loved one would be best served in an assisted living facility, really listen to what he/she is saying and be open to other options. Could the move be put off for a few months to minimize significant changes? Could you hire someone to come in and help for a few hours each day, or could adjustments be made in the home? It’s important for your loved one to still feel a sense of control so be creative together.
  • Be respectful: When you tell your loved one what you think they should do, do so respectfully. Try to avoid a bossy, impatient, or dismissive tone. If your loved one becomes angry/defensive, try to revisit the subject another day in a different way. If disagreements continue, try not to force the issue. As long as your loved one is a fully functioning adult, remember that he/she wants and deserves
  • Realistic & desired goals: Please be mindful not to make promises that cannot be kept. A placement agent can be invaluable in helping to identify options that meet your loved one’s preferences AND are within a needed/desired price range. Encourage your loved one simply to be open to learning more about options, including cost and what is feasible. Consider the positives and negatives of each site considered and consider what matters most to your loved ones, such as socialization opportunities, activity calendars or games in more active elder/care communities versus more intimate settings such as group homes. Remind them that they can try a site for 3-4 months and decide to move if it does not meet their needs or they are not happy and be willing to help them find another place that better meets their needs.

Given all the changes your loved ones face, they are often trying to cling to the areas of life they can still manage. They appreciate your concern but may also find it a bit intrusive or insulting at times. Moreover, the idea of being a burden to you may be frightening. They know the day will likely come, but they’re anxious to put it off as long as possible. Reassure them that a move to assisted living will also give you peace of mind, knowing that they’re safe, cared for, and doing well.

Below are some of the advantages of assisted living you may wish to review with your loved one:

  • Stimulating activities that help improve mood, quality of life, mental stimulation, and relationships.
  • Assistance that helps them maintain their independence so it’s easier to complete healthy, daily tasks
  • Freedom to choose by making plans together with family
  • Supervised opportunities to stay active
  • Leaving a positive legacy
  • Having activities/relationships to look forward to, making transition to the next phase of life easier

We also recommend encouraging your loved one to be willing to go on a few tours of elder care community options. Tours are great ways to see what life could be like in assisted living without pressure or demand for change. Often we hold stereotypical images of what higher level of care places look like; in fact, they are often beautiful communities that foster warmth and compassion among staff to meet your loved one’s needs. Tours are commitment-free, wonderful ways for your loved one to make informed, empowered decisions. Ask about the activity schedule, different services available and whether they’re included or available for added fees, typical dining menu, on-site amenities, etc.

A placement agent can help you along this process by identifying locations that meet your loved ones’ specific interests, needs and budget. Placement agents can be referred by your medical team, a social worker, or researched online.

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