How to Have the Conversation About Senior Living

Senior Living
Elderly couple sitting on green grass in the summer park

Posted: January 23, 2023

For many of us, it does not come naturally to talk to our parents or loved ones about their senior living options. It may be a tough pill to swallow that our parents, who dedicated much of their lives to caring for us, are getting older and may need help caring for themselves. Oftentimes, this assistance is more than we are able to provide ourselves and discussing long-term care options is necessary. 

It may be that you’ve noticed a drop in your loved one’s quality of life, or have picked up on forgetfulness or some other uncharacteristic behavior or habit. Now is the time to talk to them about their future. It’s normal to be nervous about this. “The conversation” is all too often portrayed in popular culture as an emotion-driven showdown. In real life, it’s more likely to be the first of many discussions in which you and your parents find the right ways to help and support one another.

Timing of the Conversation 

In an article for, licensed psychologist specializing in geriatric psychology Dr. Michelle Feng, Ph.D., advises opening up the conversation as early as possible and before assistance with daily activities is needed. Dr. Feng says, “ideally, you should initiate the conversation before something occurs so that you have some roadmap that isn’t created in the middle of a crisis.” To avoid waiting for a trigger event or crisis, try to find ways to incorporate the conversation within the context of daily life. 

While you map out the logistics of this discussion and decide on a suitable time frame, watching for signs and signals from your loved one is important in rationalizing the need for the conversation in the first place.

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While below is not an exhaustive list, we’ve compiled 8 tips for beginning the conversation, or series of conversations, about senior living options: 

Conversation Tips

Be proactive, not reactive. When you first begin to notice signs that indicate it may be time to consider senior living options, it’s human nature to jump to conclusions.  If your parent has skipped some meals or forgotten to fill a prescription, that’s a time to help, not a time to start the conversation. Choose a relaxed environment, and set a time when no one needs to be rushing. An attempt to jump start this conversation as an immediate result of a particular action could leave your loved one feeling defensive and apprehensive of your advice. 

Plan the conversation beforehand. Who will initiate the conversation? What family members should be involved? What setting would make your parent(s) most comfortable for a serious conversation? Considering the circumstances surrounding this conversation is beneficial in setting the stage for a productive conversation. 

Do some homework. What are the pros and cons of home care vs. community life? What are the financial implications? Your parents will have more confidence in their decisions if you can show you’ve researched questions like these.

Express feelings, not fears. Using “I” and “We” statements will help with this. “You are losing your mobility and could suffer a bad fall at any moment” is better rephrased as “I am worried that you can’t get around as well as you used to and want to know you’re safe at all times.” Your loved ones want empathy, not sympathy. Talking about this transition may activate anxieties and objections from your loved ones. Actively listening and acknowledging their feelings will reassure them that you will respect their wishes. 

Emphasize the positive. Instead of talking about what your loved one can’t do now, focus on aspects of their independence they will gain or regain in a senior living community. There is ample research available that shares the positive impact that senior living environments promote for the physical, emotional and social health of older adults. Going as far as sharing the specific offerings or amenities available at a given senior living community could shed some positive light on the overall situation. 

Reaffirm the positive with expert help. Perhaps your parent or loved one is very attached to their home and the independence it represents. It may be wise to recruit the assistance of a trusted expert as you broach this conversation. Depending on the relationship, asking someone who your loved one trusts such as a doctor, priest or pastor, attorney, or friend may aid in the urgency of the conversation. 

Residents and residential staff of senior living facilities are also great resources as they are likely to be helpful and knowledgeable when it comes to having conversations regarding transition. 

Be willing to revisit the conversation. The first conversation might not go exactly as planned. It is not uncommon that your parents or loved ones will need some time to open up to their options and be convinced of the benefits. Try not to take their hesitations personally and be willing to go back to the conversation as needed. 

 Finish with a plan of action. Show your loved ones that you are committed to finding appropriate solutions for their long-term care. This can be done by arranging the next steps.  This is crucial in carrying out these tough conversations. Coming up with a plan could  be as simple as fixing a time to bring the wider family into the discussion. Or it can be as involved as arranging a tour of Cappella of Grand Junction.

Originally posted May 2019.

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