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How to Talk to Parents About Assisted Living

Senior man in pain speaking with younger woman.

It’s a very common question, one countless adult children have had to answer: How can I talk to my parents about assisted living?  

Sure, it may be a fairly standard topic for some, but it’s a new one for you. This is the first time you’ve had to tackle this issue with your parents. You don’t know a lot about assisted living, much less how to talk to your parents about it. Where do you start?

What assisted living is (and isn’t)

Assisted living provides older adults with necessary support and care in a residential setting, so they can continue to live as independently as possible.

Generally speaking, assisted living helps older adults with the normal duties we all perform for ourselves every day. They’re known as Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs:

  • Bathing or showering — Getting into and out of the bath or shower on our own, being able to clean our body and wash our hair
  • Personal hygiene — Brushing our teeth, cleaning and trimming our nails
  • Grooming — Combing and styling our hair
  • Getting dressed — Being able to dress ourselves in clothes appropriate for the weather; being able to zip, snap, button and tie
  • Toileting — Using the bathroom sitting down and getting up from the toilet, cleaning our bodies and hands
  • Functional mobility — Also called “transferring,” this is measured by someone’s ability to get in and out of bed, or get into and out of a chair. IT may also be referred to as “ambulatory ability,” which means measuring a person’s ability to move from one place to another while performing an activity, such as cooking in the kitchen, setting the table or moving across a room to turn lamps on and off.
  • Self-feeding — Holding your utensils, getting food from your plate to your mouth. This ADL doesn’t include whether someone is able to shop for groceries or cook for themselves. 

Assisted living isn’t the same thing as a nursing home. Nursing homes provide residents with round-the-clock care, because residents have more complicated health issues and need greater attention and professional monitoring. Assisted living communities, by contrast, provide residents with just the assistance they need, when they need it, so they can continue to live as independently as possible.

Another important distinction is residences. Nursing homes often feature private suites, which are just a bedroom and private bathroom; some residents may share that suite with another older adult. Assisted living communities offer residents their own private apartment or suite, with private bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchenette.

At some communities, such as The Woodlands at Furman, assisted living apartments are spacious enough to offer multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as sizable kitchens and master closets. The Woodland at Furman’s largest assisted living private apartment is 813 square feet, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Two smaller apartment sizes are also available in one-bedroom and studio options.

Common assisted living myths — and the facts

Knowing what assisted living does and doesn’t offer is an important first step in knowing whether to move your parent into assisted living. But if you broach the subject of a move with your parents, they may have many misconceptions. They might be thinking of the assisted living environments their parents or even grandparents once lived in. 

If you hear your parents sharing these myths about assisted living, you’ll be educated and ready to respond. 

Myth #1: Our schedules will be dictated and we won’t be able to do what we want. The truth is, assisted living communities are generally just like independent living communities, except with care added in. Assisted living residents typically live in their own private apartments, enjoy meals as they wish in a community’s dining venues, order what they want from a chef-prepared menu, have numerous services and amenities available to them, can take part in lifelong learning programs and maintain their health through wellness opportunities. All this can be accessed when — and if — residents want it. Not partaking is absolutely OK too.

Myth #2: They’ll take away my car keys and I won’t be able to go anywhere. Assisted living communities don’t take anyone’s car or car keys. Many communities may offer covered garages or surface parking lots with spaces specially reserved  for residents’ vehicles. Residents can come and go in their own cars as they like. These communities also provide scheduled transportation as part of a resident’s monthly fees.

Myth #3: The food is institutional and I won’t like it. Just as people’s tastes have changed over the years, the dining experience at assisted living communities has evolved significantly. In many communities like The Woodlands at  Furman, the shift these days is toward using local fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry and fish, having trained chefs on staff who make fresh and made-from-scratch dishes, and menus that are both delicious and nutritious.

Myth #4: Assisted living is too expensive. This may be the biggest myth when you compare assisted living at a community versus receiving care at home — and if it’s a question of needing assistance, people turning 65 today have a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care in their lives. Consider all the monthly costs of living at home, such as upkeep and maintenance, food, utilities, along with bringing in personal support services. Often it’s less expensive to live in an assisted living community.

How to start the conversation

Bringing up the topic of assisted living can be difficult at best. Here are some ways to talk to your parents about making a move into assisted living.

  • Engage your siblings. Solicit your siblings for their observations. What have they noticed? What solutions do they have?
  • Plant the seed. Instead of telling your parents what you’ve noticed, try asking your parents. Make a list of concerns you have, and ask what they think. Have they noticed any issues in their daily activities? Have they fallen, struggled to get dressed or find bathing to be difficult?
  • Be a suggester, not a demander. If your parents and siblings have noticed some problems, try suggesting that assisted living may be the answer. This may help your parents eventually understand  the decision is theirs to make, instead of feeling  forced into it.
  • Think about the cost. Outline a plan to pay for assisted living. Was a parent a veteran? There are veterans’ programs that help pay for care. Do your parents have long-term care insurance? Research all your options so you know the price tag and how you and your family will afford it.  
  • Be prepared to get turned down — several times. The first conversation may not resonate. Maybe the fifth conversation won’t, either. Be patient and don’t give up. You’re doing the right thing for your parents; they may just need time to catch up to your point of view.

How to address your parents’ resistance

So you feel certain your parents would benefit from living at an assisted living community. And you’ve shared the truths behind some prevalent myths. But your parents are still resistant to the idea. How do you convince a parent to go into assisted living?

Turn their negatives into positives. If Mom  says she won’t like the food, schedule a tour at an assisted living community so she can try lunch or dinner there. When Dad  says he won’t have room for his treadmill and rowing machine, make sure the community tour takes him through the fitness center.

Take some exploratory tours. Visit assisted living communities in the area. Look at apartments, take a tour of the common spaces, meet some staff members, and ask residents what they like about living there.

Try an interim solution first. Have an in-home aide provide care in your parents’ home first. They get the care and support they need, and can see the benefits of having that provided for them. And once they visit some assisted living communities, they may gradually see what they’re missing. 

Bring in help. Asking your parents to move from their home can be an emotionally charged conversation. So consider bringing in a trusted resource, like a family physician or legal adviser, to help mediate the conversation.

Talk about the benefits of their new apartment. Sometimes talking about the advantages of your parent’s new space may sell them on the idea of moving.  For example, at The Woodlands at Furman, our assisted living floor plans include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom options. Each apartment is clean, modern and bright, with individually controlled heating and cooling, kitchenette with refrigerator and microwave, and spacious closets in the bedroom and kitchen.

Our senior living consultants  at The Woodlands at Furman can help too. We’re here to guide you and your parents so you all feel confident about the decision you’re making. Contact us when you’re ready to start the conversation or schedule a personal tour for yourself or with your parents.