How to Talk to Parents About Senior Care

What to know about this topic:

In the Comfort Life Spotlight

Are you beginning to consider retirement community options for your parents? Having that conversation with them is not always easy, but Pat Irwin of ElderCareCanada and gerontological social worker Dr. Amy D'Aprix offer advice based on their experience working with families just like yours.

Having the talk

Manage your expectations

Most families don't just make retirement living decisions over a cup of tea. It's normal to have discussions and to go through a range of emotions, some of them challenging.

For one thing, some seniors still hold outdated beliefs about “old folks homes.” These are easily put to rest by visiting retirement homes near you.

It’s also common for people in their 80’s and 90’s (The Silent Generation) to strongly believe in self-reliance—sometimes to a fault. They may have married and started families when they were young, and they worked hard for every dollar they earned and saved. Many were immigrants to Canada who started with nothing, and often, they have difficulty admitting they need help, let alone accepting it.

Their adult children find this rigidity challenging, especially since they respect, admire, and love their parents. This family dynamic can be problematic, and it can lead to a stalemate. Every family should avoid this. If you don’t, and a health crisis or a bad fall happens(two common scenarios) you’re not going to be ready. See other tipping points you want to avoid

So, it's one of the most important talks in a person's life, really.There are ways families can handle some potential difficulties.

Do your homework and research

Irwin asks her senior clients: “What does independence mean to you? What does it mean to your family?” As care and support needs increase, family members can help, but seniors also need to consider how kids are managing the stress and disruption of caregiving.

Hold the right attitude throughout the process

How do you talk about senior care? Calmly. For example, you might be driving together or playing cards when you raise the subject. Pat Irwin suggests a starting point something like: “Mom, I notice you might need some help with cooking. What do you think?” Take this objective, non-judgmental approach. If you say that, be prepared to back it up with observations. The question at the end gives control to the senior, where it belongs. 

If the senior admits that they have some trouble, discuss solutions. At the opposite extreme, they might shut you down by saying, “I know where you’re going with this, and I’m not interested in going to a nursing home.” Honour that but stick to facts. Answer that objection, but drop the subject if it’s not going to fly. 

It’s key to be curious, together. Amy D’Aprix is a gerontological social worker with over 30 years of experience in this area. She suggests an approach focused on gathering knowledge together and alleviating family worries. “It would give me peace of mind if we could go and look.” Or you can say, “Things are good right now, but they can change any time. It’d be good to know what’s out there, don’t you think?” 

Learning and empowerment are guideposts you should keep on your journey. One other aspect worth noting in D’Aprix’s suggestions is the questioning stance, focused on curiosity. She advises that families work toward clearly drawing out at least two things together. One is the triggers that will get them to consider a change, like the tipping points listed above. The other thing to set out is obstacles to moving, like what we discussed in our objections list

Clarifying those triggers and obstacles gives space to emotional needs, something that many adult children skip over. The fact is that people feel a powerful attachment to their place or the independence of driving. Emotions have to be acknowledged, and when families do this, it can be a key to breaking through many barriers. 

As Irwin says, this conversation can be “up there with any life events we’d like to avoid,” but as D’Aprix will tell you, don’t let that awkwardness keep you from making a good decision. Focus on making good decisions. See where the conversation takes you, and hopefully it moves ever forward. Your family’s discussion will have unique permutations. It’s most important to give it the time and space it needs. Of course, always keep an even keel and be respectful.

Create a retirement care strategy

Using your research and positive attitude, develop a strategy of tasks and checkpoints: plan the work and work the plan. An example might be research three retirement homes this month, visit two and book a trial stay the following month, and make a decision within four months. A plan with target goals is something everyone can readily relate to.

Ensure you ask the right questions when you visit a retirement community for a tour. Download our free eBook The Ultimate Retirement Tour Checklist for 153 questions you should ask to make sure you have the information you need to make the right choice.

Involve all players
Be sure that all relevant parties—siblings and their spouses—are on the same page for a united front.

Start with a small step

Try implementing something simple as a first step, such as transportation assistance. Build on that success to gain credibility as a partner in your parents’ well-being.

Make sure there are no surprises

Give your shortlisted retirement home or home care options a trial run. Go for a complimentary lunch, book a one-week stay at a retirement home, talk to other residents and staff, find friends who’ve made the switch and get their best advice.

Trying to choose between home care and a retirement community? Get the facts you need. Download our free eBook The Cost of Living at Home for detailed financial information and advice.

Comfort Life is a division of Our Kids Media™ ©2002-2021   •   Disclaimer: Information presented on this page may be paid advertising provided by the retirement care advertisers and is not warranted or guaranteecd by or its associated websites.  •   See Terms and Conditions.

The Comfort Life eNewsletter

Sign up today to receive tips and advice on retirement living, retirement communities, home care and other services.

First Name:
Postal Code

Comfort Life

*Bonus: sign up and immediately receive a free digital edition of Comfort Life Retirement Living Guide

100 pages, featuring the top retirement communities and care with expert advice on choosing, financing and making the move.