How to Have “The Conversation” with Your Parents

One of the most heartfelt and uncomfortable conversations you will ever have in your life will be the senior living talk you may eventually have to have with your parent or parents.

No one wants to have this conversation, but it’s often more detrimental to your parent’s well-being to avoid it.  Here are some tips to help you start the process:

Start the conversation early. Very early.

The best way to initiate the conversation with your parent or parents is to do it as early as possible. Most people feel uncomfortable about initiating a senior living conversation and opt to wait until a health crisis unfolds to begin the dialogue.  This is a huge mistake.  By approaching the topic long before a chronic health problem forces the issue, your loved one will feel actively involved, and will be able to offer insight into their wishes.

Expect Resistance.

You will probably be shut down several times before you make any real headway, but that only underscores the need to start the discussion early.  Remember:  it can take—literally—years for someone to make a senior living transition, so no time is too early to broach the subject.

When you are met with resistance, drop the topic, but be sure to mention that it will need to be brought up again.  Over time, your parents will see that you are not going to stop trying to discuss it, and eventually, they will relent.


Hopefully a bad incident will not force the conversation.  Oftentimes, a senior will shut down the discussion successfully for years, but then disaster strikes.  A parent, for example, could take a nasty spill, or get burglarized and not feel safe, which then makes them more open to the reality of the situation.

Demonstrate Your Love and Concern

Before any of these tragedies happen, it’s best to explain to your loved ones that you are concerned and feel responsible for them, especially since they took care of you for so many years.  Explain that you will want to tour facilities with them so they will feel like they have a choice and are not just being forced into one.

Crowd Source Kindness

Be sure to include the entire family in the process. It will be much less difficult to deal with the situation as a team than as an individual.  Allow the senior to spend some time at a facility so they can experience the comfort and staff firsthand. Also remember that a trusted family doctor, faith leader, or friend can be called in to offer understanding or allay fears.

Most adults feel guilty about transitioning their parents into a senior living facility, but they shouldn’t. Instead, they should feel a sense of relief and even pride in knowing that they’ve acted responsibly by taking care of their loved ones in a thoughtful way.

Many senior living facilities actually help their residents thrive in their final years. This can be a gift not only to your parent or parents, but also to yourself. All too often people try to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of an elderly family member only to have everyone suffer as a result.

Anna Horn works on outreach for Providence Place, an independent living facility in central Pennsylvania. Providence Place simplifies retirement living and provides the right amount of care for several life stages. 

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