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Talking With Your Parents About Independent Living

Starting the conversation about their options

Your parents might have lived in their home for decades, so it’s understandable that they are not eager to move to a new place when they get older. Even if the house is getting difficult to maintain or doesn’t meet their needs, there are years of memories there. Change can be hard.

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It’s good to talk with your parents while they are still healthy about what might be needed to remain living independently — often parents and loved ones find some peace of mind in discussing those issues when things are going well. If you wait until a crisis occurs, you will have to make decisions quickly and you might not know your loved one’s wishes.

Many adult children don’t know how to bring up the subject of independent living with their parents. Here are some tips for starting this difficult dialogue, keeping focused and dealing with resistance.

Beginning the conversation

Raise the issues indirectly
Mention a friend’s mother who recently hired in-home help, or an article that you read about programs at a nearby senior center. Example: “Is that something that you might be interested in learning more about?”

Find small ways to bridge the issue
Example: “I know you’re taking pills for arthritis, your heart and cholesterol. Would it help if you had one of those medication organizers you can buy in the drugstore?”

Share your own emotions
Example:  “Dad, it’s hard for me to see you slowing down and I know you’ve always prided yourself on being independent. I imagine it’s difficult for you to ask for help, but what are some things that we can do?”

Set the right tone
Once the topic has been brought up, listen to how your parents feel about their current needs, concerns, worries and hopes for the future. Don’t guess or make assumptions about your parents’ preferences. Ask open-ended questions that get them to express their perceptions.

Use communication that states your concern and avoids criticism
Example: “I’m feeling concerned that you may fall coming down the stairs. I could put a 100-watt bulb at the bottom of the stairs and install a handrail.” Don't say: "Going upstairs in your condition is ridiculous. You’re sure to fall.”

Avoid role reversal
Helping out doesn’t mean you are “parenting” your parents. The most productive interactions come when parents and adult children are equal in the relationship.

Next: Focusing on the key issues. »

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