Asking a parent or aging relative to consider moving to a senior living community can be an uncomfortable and frustrating experience. Chances are you’re reluctant to bring it up, expecting them to bristle at the suggestion or listen politely and ignore you.
The trouble is you’re worried. You’re worried that if they don’t move somewhere they’ll be safer, something will happen to them. A decline in their health or an incident like a bad fall.
Consider their perspective
The thing to realize is that you’re looking at things from two different perspectives. Your primary concern is likely for their health and safety. Their primary concern is likely maintaining control over their life.
When you suggest moving to a senior living community, they’re probably hearing “You can’t look after yourself anymore.” And that can be a shocking thing to hear from someone who they may have raised from a baby. Someone whose diapers they changed.
Consider how you’d feel if the shoe were on the other foot.
Oh sure, your body’s older, but you’re only as old as you feel, right? Inside your head, you’re probably still the same person you’ve always been. You resent how people treat you differently nowadays. Just because you’re older, they think you’re less capable, less competent. And now they want you to move in with a bunch of “old people”. Ha!
Okay. You understand why they might be resisting, but your concerns for their safety may still be perfectly valid. Simply letting them dig in their heels doesn’t solve anything. So, what can you do?
Don’t push too hard
Pushing harder until they finally see the light and agree to move might not be the best approach. The danger is they’ll only resist more.
Avoid backing them into a corner. Invite them to share their concerns about moving to a senior living community. Listen. Don’t debate what they’re feeling, even if you think they’re making false assumptions about senior living. Show that you’re taking them seriously by offering to help them come up with a plan that takes their concerns into account. Let them see that you’re on their side.
Do your research
If possible, make sure you understand what living in a senior living community is like. Check out some communities online. Maybe even give a couple of them a call.
Look at what these communities are offering from two perspectives. How well can they keep your parent or aging relative safe and healthy? And how well can they reinforce their sense of autonomy, belonging, and purpose?
Understanding this second perspective can be particularly important in helping you build your case.
Emphasize benefits of a move as opposed to the need for care
Few people are happy to be told they need care, even if it’s true. That’s why focusing on the advantages of a move over the necessity of a move can get you more traction. Are there certain aspects of living in their own home that your parent or aging relative isn’t enjoying anymore? Maintaining their own property? Making their own meals? Climbing the stairs? Feeling lonely?
Point out how moving to a senior living community could eliminate these hassles. Plus, remind them that selling their home could free up equity they could spend on things that are important to them.
Mention friends who’ve already moved to retirement living
Despite your best intentions, they may still be reluctant to take your advice. But if they were to hear from someone in their social circle who’s already moved to a retirement home and is enjoying life there, that could be a game-changer.
If you know of such a person, don’t be afraid to drop their name into a conversation. “Hey, Mom. I heard so-and-so moved to such-and-such a place…”
Give them time to think about it
Remember: you’re asking them to make a major life decision. If at all possible, give them time to sit with it a while. Avoid nagging them. Don’t forget how much you hated it when they nagged you as a kid. More often than not, it probably just made you dig in your heels.
What to do if they still refuse
When it comes right down to it, it’s ultimately your parent or aging relative’s decision to make. They’re completely within their rights to refuse to move.
That said, they may change their mind in the future. Their circumstances may change. Or something may happen that alters their attitude. When this sort of thing happens, be prepared to resume the conversation about senior living. Above all, resist the temptation to say “I told you so.”
And what if they have dementia?
Well, it’s still their decision to make, as long as they understand the risks of living in their current home and the possible consequences.
However, if their judgement or decision-making abilities are impaired – and they can’t make an informed decision about where they should be living – someone may need to step in and make the decision for them. Rules about who can take on this responsibility vary from state to state, but the Alzheimer’s Association provides a useful overview of this issue.
If you’re having trouble figuring this out, we can help. We guide families through these sorts of situations every day.
For more on this topic, check out our Choosing The Right Community guide.