Advice Assisted Living

Help Me Talk with My Mother About Senior Living

Woman and senior woman outdoors

Dear Benchmark,

My mother has been living alone the past two years. She is 83 years old and has a variety of chronic health conditions. I’ve been worried about her safety because the neighborhood she has lived in for 40 years has gone downhill. Crime rates are up and many of her long time neighbors have moved.

Lately my mom has started experiencing problems with balance. This has led to several bad falls when she was home by herself. She’s been banged up but, thankfully, hasn’t broken any bones.

I have to admit that I’m not handling this situation very well. I know I need to be more sympathetic. But I’m frightened for her and fearful something terrible is going to happen. I’ve tried talking to her about moving but she won’t listen. I finally told her she is going to have to accept that it is time for her to move out of her old house. It just wasn’t built with the safety an older person in mind. The conversation didn’t go very well.

What can I do to convince her to move? We have to get her out of that house and in to a senior living community before something terrible happens!


How to Talk about Senior Care with an Aging Family Member

Dear Darlene:

This conflict is one we hear often from seniors and their family members. You love your mother and don’t want anything to happen to her. She likely has a different opinion on what is best for her.

I can share some insight that might help you and your mother.

This advice comes from many years spent helping families like yours find common ground. What I’ve heard again and again from seniors is how much they wished their adult children could look at the situation from their perspective. In essence, put themselves in their parent’s shoes.

Think about the losses your mother has had and what she perceives as more to come:

Physical health: You mentioned your mom has some health problems and that she’s taken a few bad falls. Accepting that you are no longer able to physically do things you’ve always done is difficult. How frustrated and helpless would you feel knowing you are no longer safe making your way around your own home?
Loss of a spouse: Since you mentioned your mother lives alone now, am I right in assuming your father passed away? The loss of a spouse after many decades of marriage is a major life adjustment. One that can take years to adapt to.
Independence: For most people, feeling like a loved one is making decisions for us —instead of with us — automatically puts us on the defensive. No matter what age we are, maintaining a sense of independence is important. Independence and pride are closely linked.
Loss of a home: While senior living communities definitely have a lot to offer, moving to one requires your mother to give up her house and maybe even some of her cherished possessions. Since she has lived there for so long, her home probably represents happy family times. The emotional side of moving is difficult at any age, but especially so the older we get.

While you are obviously coming from a place of love and concern, it sounds like there might be an opportunity to approach the conversation with your mother a little differently. Here are a few pointers for demonstrating you empathize with her:

Active listening: Ask your mother how she feels about her current situation. Is she frightened living alone in a neighborhood that isn’t as safe as it once was? Is she afraid she will fall again? What are her thoughts and feelings about all that has happened? Let this be her time to talk uninterrupted.
Her viewpoint: Does your mother have a different idea in mind for addressing her safety concerns? Maybe she wants to try home care services and a medical alert system? Ask her what she thinks is the best solution.
Paint a picture: Try to encourage your mother to think about what she would like to spend her days doing. Is she lonely and would like to be able to socialize more? Would she be interested in participating in classes like watercolor painting or Chair Yoga? Try to present some of the advantages of community living without mentioning the move itself. If you can help her envision a better quality of life, she might decide to move to a senior living community all on her own.

Finally, share with your mother why you are encouraging her to move. For example, is worrying that she has fallen and can’t reach the phone keeping you up at night? Tell your mother that. Make sure your words match your emotion so she understands you are concerned and not just trying to make decisions for her.

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