When discussing senior living options, you’ll have plenty of ground to cover. However, your method of approach can affect the outcome. Certain words, phrases, and topics have the potential to upset your parent, trigger a conflict, or even get construed as disrespectful.
So what are some of these trigger words and phrases? And what would be an appropriate substitute?
Avoid Using Third-Person Language When Your Parent Is Present
Your parent will find it highly dismissive if you discuss them as though they aren’t even in the room. Using third-person language to talk about your parent implies that you make all of their decisions for them. This language also has the potential to make your parent feel helpless or even invisible—as if his or her opinion does not matter.
What to Say Instead: While discussing options with a senior living representative, include your parent in the conversation as much as possible. Instead of saying, “This is what I think is best for her,” address your parent directly and encourage input—for instance, by saying, “Mom, why don’t you tell us what you think about that?” Or: “Is there something we’re overlooking that might be important to you?”
Don’t Tell Parents What They “Can’t” Do
Without even realizing you’ve done so, you might overwhelm your parent with negative language about their capabilities as they age:
- “You can’t drive anymore.”
- “You can’t keep up the house.”
- “You can’t cook or do laundry.”
- “You can’t take care of yourself.”
- “You can’t live alone.”
While you may have come to these conclusions, emphasizing the negative will near invariably provoke a confrontation or have your parent dig in their heels in opposition.
What to Say Instead: Talk instead about your concerns for your parent’s well-being and possible options for living a better life, such as, “Mom, I’m starting to think there are better alternatives for you than living alone. I know what a social person you are, so I’m wondering how you would feel if we started looking for a place where you can socialize and interact with people every day.” You can also approach the topic from a safety approach, saying for example, “Dad, I know you’ve had a couple falls lately, and that’s something we shouldn’t ignore. What if we started looking into some senior living options that could keep you safe while still allowing you to have your independence?”
Don’t Say “We’re Moving My Parent into Assisted Living”
While a common enough expression for families undergoing a senior community transition, this phrase also implies your parent has no free will or self-agency. If you’re “moving” your parent, it indicates that you call the shots, and it also implies your parent is a burden and incapable of making decisions.
What to Say and Do Instead: The key to a successful move into Assisted Living is to involve your parent in the decision. Try saying, “Dad, this is why we think it would be good for you,” or, “Mom, why don’t you let me help you explore your options, so we can come to the decision that is best for you?” Have your parent actively participate in the choice by setting up tours and arranging Q&A sessions with Assisted Living administrators. Ultimately, your goal is to achieve a consensus with your parent that a move to Assisted Living represents the best option.
Avoid Dwelling on “the Old”
Sometimes a senior is reluctant to move into Assisted Living because they don’t want to be perceived as “old.” We tend to self-identify as younger than we are, and some people find it difficult to concede that they’ve aged to the point where they need assistance with the activities of daily living.
What to Say Instead: To get away from that perception, start focusing on the new things your parent will find in an Assisted Living community—new surroundings, new activities, new experiences, new friends, and a new lease on life. Your goal is to help your mom or dad to think of “new” as the antithesis of “old.” You want them to get to the point where they say, “I can’t wait until I move into my brand new place.”