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By Toby Ehrlich, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Very often I receive calls from families saying they know in their hearts that their parents should no longer be living at home alone, but they simply can’t get them to consider assisted living. Here are a few thoughts on how you might approach things when your parents are resistant.

The process begins and ends with communication…. with a few practical considerations along the way. Schedule a special time to first approach your parents about your observation. You might call them up and ask to spend the afternoon with them, or ask them out to lunch. Tell them that you want to discuss some family business with them.

Be sensitive in your language. Use the phrase “I feel” when speaking with them, for example, “I feel uncomfortable with you living alone because you are falling often,” or “I feel nervous because you’re not remembering to take your medication.”

Try to use a small amount of information. You can even say, “I know you’re not ready for assisted living yet, but I’d like to go and look at a few places in case the need arises.”
If they balk, that’s OK; remember that you are talking to them about their independence, and they are likely not to want to discuss it.

Don’t try to convince them the first time around. Instead, acknowledge their fears and move on to other topics. In a few weeks you can approach the subject again. You might want to ask them to attend a concert or lecture at an assisted living, or to have lunch with you there.

The key is, whenever possible, not to make assisted living into an emergency choice. Try to approach the topic before it becomes urgent. It will be easier and safer for the whole family.

Here are some tools for this challenge:

1. Patience…take it slowly.
2. Take the time to sit down and talk with your parents, and don’t think they will change their minds in a moment. Give them time to digest the information and don’t be surprised if they are angry — they are feeling many losses.
3. Approach the topic with respect, knowledge and solid information.
4. When talking to a parent, stick to discussing safety issues and why assisted living would be a good choice.
5. Don’t overwhelm them. For example, don’t bring up the need to take over their banking and to take their car away all in the same conversation. Relinquishing one’s independence is far easier to internalize and accept if it comes gradually, instead of like a speeding bullet.
6. When they finally come to the assisted living for an activity or lunch, ask the representative to introduce them to other residents, so they can hear about life there from people their age.
7. Discuss coming for a short-term stay for two weeks to a month, just to see what life at assisted living is like.
8. You don’t have to do everything on your own. Let the Assisted Living staff meet and talk with you and your family to help with the process they are trained to help.

Though you have your parents’ best interests in mind, it will likely take them some time to come to terms with their loss of independence. Small steps, love, and patience will get you the best results.

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