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When To Consider Assisted Living

March 21, 2014

If you’re trying to bring up the topic of assisted living to a loved one, here are some pointers that can help encourage productive conversation:

Start early
For many older adults, making the move to assisted living – even when it is clearly the logical choice – can be a complicated decision, and one that requires time for emotional adjustment.  Because of this, it’s a good idea to bring up the subject before physical or mental capacity declines, so that everyone is comfortable with the idea and understands what it will entail.  This prevents the move from seeming like a loss of autonomy on the part of the senior, and can relieve stress for family members who take on responsibility for the various responsibilities of the transition, such as selling a current house or apartment, managing packing or hosting an estate sale.

Senior woman with her daughter Amy Dickinson, author and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, spoke with NPR about her personal experience as she and her siblings helped their mother realize that assisted living was the best option for maintaining her well-being and safety, as well as her independence.  The process was not a quick transition, however, and only after about two years of conversation did Dickinson’s mother agree with the idea.

“I remember thinking … It’s just the one talk,” Dickinson told NPR. “Well, it’s not. It’s – this took a really long time.  Our mother was very resistant, and we had to keep talking to her about it, opening up as a conversation, not pressuring her – because that’s another thing. And you don’t want to force someone.”

Be realistic
Although older parents or loved ones may insist that they’re fine living on their own, look for signs that this may be less than true.  According to Dickinson, these changes may be difficult to recognize, particularly if the loved one – like her own mother – tried to mask difficulties around visitors.

“She did something a lot of older people do,” Dickinson told NPR. “You know, if she knew someone was coming over, she could get it together.  And I started spending time with her every day. And that’s when I saw – you know, you look in the fridge, and you see what your parent is eating or not eating.  You see that your parent is dropping things on the floor.  They’re not able to keep things clean.”

While it’s important not to talk with aging parents in an accusatory tone, gently making note of situations that have posed or continue to pose a risk to their well-being can help them recognize how they could benefit from assisted living. 

Be prepared
Before starting a serious conversation, it can be helpful to have all of the information in place. Dickinson described how she and her siblings collected statistics about nearby assisted living communities and the amenities that each offered. Additionally, they rehearsed the conversation beforehand, considering what hesitations their mother might have, and how to respond to such concerns in a manner that was both thoughtful and effective. Dickinson also said it’s important to continue being attentive to parents’ needs and emotional responses throughout the process.  While you want things to run smoothly and efficiently, it’s important to know when to take a break so that neither they, nor yourself, becomes frustrated or overwhelmed.

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