Many people procrastinate having conversations with their loved one about senior living out of fear – fear of their reaction or maybe their own fear. They may fear having to admit their loved one is needing more care and they don’t want to face the reality.  For most of us though, having this talk is inevitable and it is only as hard as we make it. The longer we wait, the harder it will be. If you find yourself ambivalent about having this conversation, try using these tips to get you started:

1. Start now and keep the conversation ongoing

Stop procrastinating! Set a date for opening up a conversation with your loved one about senior living.  If you keep it as an ongoing conversation over time and keep it light, you’ll find your loved one is less defensive about the idea and options of senior living. It may also help to state your intention to open the conversation. For example, “Mom/Dad, I wanted to chat with you about something that’s been on my mind. As your child and someone who cares deeply for you, I want to ensure if anything were to happen to you, I understand your wishes so I can meet them. Do you mind if we discuss your wishes?”

2. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements

Use “I” statements because it’s coming from your perspective and how you feel, not how they feel. If you use “you” statements, your loved one would feel attacked or blamed resulting in them shutting down and refusing to listen to anything you have to say. You can almost guarantee they will be defensive.

For example, “I have noticed it’s getting harder for you to go up and down stairs. Have you considered moving to a place without stairs?” vs. “You know it’s harder for you to go up and downstairs. You need a place without stairs.”

3. Work with resistance, not against it

At some point during your conversation, you will feel the resistance. The key is to acknowledge this resistance and not to argue. Try to dig deeper by asking questions in order to get to the underlying fear.  Underneath resistance is an enigma full of fear. When you can understand their concerns and fears, you can then empathize and allow your loved one to be heard and seen. This will open them up and not shut them down.

Loved one: “I don’t want to leave my house, I have so many memories left here.”

You: “It must be extremely hard to think about leaving all the memories here. What have you loved most about this house?”

4. Be their advocate

Be with them along this journey and not against them. Try to understand where they are coming from by putting yourself in their shoes and how hard this decision must be for them.  The more you can empathize with them, the more progress you will make. It will allow them to feel in control of this decision when they fear losing their independence. 

You: “I know this is a tough decision for you, and I am sure it’s very scary and overwhelming to think about leaving your home of 30 years. But can I tell you something? You don’t have to do this alone. I would love if you’d allow me to walk this journey with you and help you research and explore different options if the time ever comes.”

Having the conversation with your loved one is only as hard as you make it. Keep an open heart and mind by approaching each conversation in a caring compassionate way and you’ll find it wasn’t that bad after all.

Comment below about your experience with having the conversation with your loved one and tips you found successful.