At some point, many families are faced with the reality that caring for an elderly parent has become too difficult for caregivers, or the parent needs more care than they can provide. Job responsibilities, growing families, homes of their own to care for, long distances, and burnout can all conspire to make caring for a loved one more than a family can manage. But there are ways to break the ice on the topic of moving to senior living and make the conversation one about love and caring, instead of a stressful encounter. The earlier you begin, the easier it will be when the time comes.
Involve the whole family
Begin by circling the family wagons. Plan a meeting or conference call and introduce the topic to all siblings and ask for their input. In many cases, even though there are several children, only one or two are bearing the brunt of caregiving. Without pointing fingers or blaming, carefully explain why caregiving is becoming (or will likely become in the future) too much to manage and how senior living could improve everyone’s quality of life. While there may be opposition at first, staying calm and explaining daily care needs and caregiver responsibilities will help. Also make sure everyone is updated on the parent’s health, especially about complicating factors like memory loss or physical disabilities, and share any physician’s recommendations.
Be prepared as well for siblings who offer to pitch in rather than sending mom or dad to “a home.” Be open to the idea if it provides both adequate care and enough time off for the primary caregiver(s). If it does, give it a trial run for a month or two. Sometimes the reality of daily caregiving has to be learned by doing. If this test is not sustainable, move on to the next step: talking to the parent.
Build on your caring relationship
As a caregiver, a loving and caring relationship is already in place which helps instill trust. In a best-case scenario, the primary caregiver(s) will have an idea of where the parent stands on senior living. They may already know it’s going to be difficult or maybe the parent is open to moving when the time is right. That’s why it’s best to address the decision as early as possible, before the need arises.
Plan your talk for a time when as many siblings as possible can be present and take it slowly. Do not put a parent on the defensive or give ultimatums, rather just ask their opinion in light of their needs and the needs of caregivers. Be aware that, for many elderly people, the greatest hurdle to the move is fear of change and loss. Be ready to assure them that they can take many of their precious possessions with them and make their new apartment their own. Also, let them know that a move to senior living does not mean they aren’t loved and wanted. In fact, the move would actually free up time for more fun interaction between parents and children who no longer have to clean, cook and care for the home. Learn more about the fear associated with senior living from the Association for Long-Term Care Planning.
Also, remember to stress concerns about their health, safety and quality of life. Mention occasions when they were lonely and how they will meet new people; remind them how difficult it is for them to get around due to challenges like stairs they would not have to endure in senior living; and let them know your own worries such as risk of falls when they are alone; or concerns about memory (like forgetting to take daily medications).
Keep in mind, elderly parents may not know 21st century senior living is vastly different from years past. If you have a tablet or laptop, show them websites for possible senior living communities in the area so they can see how beautiful they really are. If a move to another area or state is under consideration, RetirementLiving.com has a handy search page covering senior living in every U.S. state and the variety of housing options.
This first conversation is just an introduction to the idea, and unless the situation requires an immediate move, it should continue until a decision is made. By doing it slowly, parents have time to think it through, talk to friends who have already moved, and understand why it might be a good move for them and their family. Before taking the first steps, however, take a moment to download the “Family Decision Toolkit: How to choose the right senior living community,” from 12 Oaks Senior Living. It’s a great guide to a good conversation.