Talking to Mom and Dad About Senior Living Options

It is hard to watch your parents get older. While many seniors remain active and well able to care for themselves, adult children worry anyway. Is doing the yard work too much for dad? Is mom eating well and taking her medications as directed? Do they have social interaction? What if one of them falls? The best solution is to have a proactive conversation about aging, their wishes, and living well.

Start the discussion early

The best time to talk to your parents about care as they age is when they are still relatively young and in good health—in other words, before a new living situation is needed and the issue is not emotionally charged. Some parents will want to consider their options early; others prefer to not think about aging and hold onto the family home. In either case, it is important for you to understand your parents’ wishes and discuss the practical side of aging.

If your parents want to discuss their will or estate plans, this is a great segue into a talk about senior living options. Likewise, if a friend or relative becomes ill or passes away, it provides an opening into what can be a tough family discussion. Here are a few thoughts to get you started forming your list of questions:

  1. If your parents are ready to downsize now, discuss where they would like to live (Near friends? Grandkids? Cultural attractions?), and check out recommendations on choosing or designing a home with aging in mind. A single-story home without stairs, doors with levers instead of knobs, wider doorways to accommodate (possible) future walkers or wheelchairs, and bathrooms with walk-in showers and safety bars (or space to add them) may allow them to age more comfortably at home.
  2. Are they okay with moving more than once? If they choose to move into a 55+ independent living community and then require assisted living or nursing care, they may need to move again. If they prefer to find a place they can stay forever, have them consider a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). If you (and their grandkids) move frequently and they plan to follow your moves, they may want to rent instead of buy.
  3. It can be hard for adult children to hear of their parents’ plan to sell the family home. Before you react, remember this is likely an emotional decision for your parents, as well. Ask your parents their reasoning. If it is sound, put aside your own emotions and accept their decision. (If you really want to keep the home, consider purchasing it at fair market value!) In most cases, the move will involve downsizing. Have them consider which items they wish to keep and which will go; then come up with a plan to gift, donate or sell items they will not be keeping. They may wish to hire a senior move specialist to help with this process.
  4. Your parents’ health or future health concerns should factor into the discussion. Any of us can be injured or become ill at any time. What happens if one parent becomes ill? Is the other physically and emotionally able to be a caretaker and care for the home and yard? What if both fall ill at the same time? If current health of a parent is a concern, you may wish to involve their doctor in the discussion and ask for recommendations. The health discussion should include a review of the insurance coverage available for things like home health care or nursing home costs. Your parents should have both regular power of attorney forms completed, as well as health care power of attorney documents. Make sure you understand their wishes regarding treatment options if they become ill and are unable to communicate their desires.
  5. Do you see your parents struggling to keep up with home and landscape care? They may seem to have it under control, but ask about these duties. Even if dad is physically able to mow the lawn every week, he may be tired of the job! Does it make sense to hire a cleaning agency or landscapers to handle the work? Look at the cost and the practical side of things. Your parents may not need or want a large house on a big plot of land anymore. Typically, the larger the property is, the more it costs for utilities, insurance, general maintenance, and taxes.
  6. Nutrition can be a challenge as we age. As we get older, our nutritional needs change. Those with high blood pressure may need a low salt diet; those with diabetes should reduce sugar intake; and certain foods can react with medications and supplements. If you notice your parents gaining or losing weight, changing eating habits, or showing a lack of interest in food, ask them about it. The doctor may want to run some tests or refer them to a nutritionist. If they still enjoy cooking and can do so safely, the nutritionist may recommend recipes to help meet their dietary needs. Optionally, meal kits allow for easy preparation (though the expense may be prohibitive). Meals on Wheels or other home meal delivery services may be an alternative in certain instances. Many senior living communities offer dining options with healthy meals and the opportunity to socialize. This is big positive for many people considering a move to a senior living community!
  7. Transportation and socialization are very important factors. If your parents plan a move, will they be in a community where they can get out and meet others with similar interests? What happens if they are not able to (or do not want to) drive any longer? Will they have access to transportation for medical appointments or shopping? Do local grocers and pharmacies deliver?
  8. Finally, you should discuss finances so everyone has a clear understanding of what options are practical based on your parents’ income and assets. Some think it would be too expensive to consider a senior living community, but research shows a senior living community can cost less than aging in place at home(a).

Discussing these issues can be stressful for some families, but doing so early will allow you to understand your parents’ wishes and allow them to have as much control as possible over their living arrangements as they age. 

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(a) National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, A Place for Mom, and others.