Talking About Senior Living: Conversation Starters for Family Members

Starting a conversation about senior living with your aging loved one can feel like a difficult task. Senior living communities are environments designed to give residents services and amenities that enhance wellness and empower them to pursue a lifestyle they love, but it can still feel awkward bringing up the topic.

There are a lot of resources out there that can make planning for the conversation and follow-up a bit easier. In fact, we’ve written some. However, there aren’t a lot of actionable scripts or conversation starters you can use when you are actually having the senior living conversation with your loved one.

We’ve compiled a few conversation starters that you can tweak to meet your specific goals and to suit your loved one. Although we can’t create a personalized script for you, we can give you phrases that you might be able to weave into your discussions. Use these to guide you, maybe even jotting them down on a piece of paper you can refer to during your talk so that you can stay focused on the task at hand.

To Start Talking About Senior Living

Starting the initial conversation about senior living can often be the most difficult. Here are a few phrases you can use within that initial discussion to ensure you are putting your loved one’s needs first and taking time to listen to what they are saying.

“I’ve been worried lately about your health, Mom, because ...”

Give tangible examples about events or accidents that have occurred in the past six months, such as falls, infections, visits to the emergency room, weight loss, lack of nutritional support, or other specific concerns.

“I’ve noticed that you aren’t going out as much with your friends, Dad ...”

Give the reasons you think your loved one might not be socializing as much with their friends, such as transportation challenges, social anxiety due to cognitive decline, or mobility issues. 

“How would you feel if we could get you some additional assistance and support?”

Asking open-ended questions allows the senior to express themselves freely and with more detail. In contrast, a question that can be answered with a quick “yes” or “no” often leads to less detailed responses.

“What are some tasks you could use help with?”

Again, sticking with open-ended questions can get your loved one speaking about some of the chores or tasks they are struggling with or that they might find to be energy-draining.

“How much do you know about senior living?”

Asking this open-ended question helps you gauge their initial opinion of senior living, as well as any stereotypes of senior living they may be holding onto that you could address.

“I love you and just want the best for you. We can talk more about this later. Let’s go to dinner.”

Ending the conversation when it becomes unproductive or defensive allows you to redirect your visit to something more positive. This phrase reinforces the intention of why you brought up your concerns in the first place and redirects to something new to do together so the main takeaway from the visits isn’t a negative one.

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To Revisit Talking About Senior Living

The senior living talk will likely be a series of discussions. Use your time together to revisit the topic and address any concerns they may have expressed as well as to talk more about the benefits of senior living.

“I’d like to talk more about getting you the help you deserve, Mom ...”

Start out the new conversation by putting their needs first, which will help reinforce that senior living is for them and their needs.

“How have you been feeling about senior living since we talked about it last?”

Again, this phrase puts the senior’s needs first while gauging their reaction. This open-ended question also empowers them to speak freely about how they have been feeling about it, and you’ll be able to tell if they have been thinking about it more since your last conversation.

“What do you think about asking Dr. Sterling to give her opinion? I know you trust her, and so do I.”

This approach opens the door for a new opinion from a trusted professional, their physician. This shows you are open to other points of view.

“I pulled these brochures from a few senior living places. Look, they have a lot of things here I think you’d enjoy.”

Having brochures or other information about local communities can make the idea of senior living more personal and tangible. You can also point out specific amenities or services that you think your loved one would benefit from or find interesting.

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“What do you think about going to have a meal there with me? They have this event coming up I think sounds fun.”

The invitation to experience the senior living lifestyle without the extra stress of a formal tour can be a wonderful way for the two of you to get out of the house and experience something new together. 

“Look, I found this advice to write down all your current monthly expenses and then to compare it to a monthly fee at a senior living community. I think that’s something we can do to put our minds at ease about the financial side of it.”

Older adults can worry if senior living fits into their budget or if they can afford it. This conversational approach opens the door to face any financial fears they may have with senior living.

“Let’s talk about what you are worried about.”

This phrase offers the chance for the senior to express themselves. Be sure to listen more in this case, and resist the urge to give reasons why they shouldn’t be worried or nervous. You’ll be able to find out the main things they are concerned about when it comes to considering senior living. The answers might even surprise you.

To Conclude Talking About Senior Living

It’s important to note that you might have to revisit the talk about senior living multiple times with your loved one. Ideally, you want to get their approval and their involvement in the process before a medical crisis occurs. 

If your loved one still isn’t open to considering a senior living community, see how they’d feel about a little assistance in their home via home care services. If they appreciate the benefits of that support, it might open their minds to receiving care in a community setting where they can also have access to new friends and even more services.

Eventually, as you and your loved one come to an agreement about their next steps, you can make sure you are concluding the conversation with plenty of support.

“I’d love to help you by going on tours and being your sounding board as you make your decision. Is that ok?”

This phrase puts the senior at the center of the decision-making process, because they are the one that should feel empowered and make the final call. However, it shows you are there to support them with the details.

“Should we talk more about this with other family members?”

This question offers the opportunity to discuss this decision with other adult children or members of the family. It shows that you’re open to hearing other perspectives and points of view.

“Can I help by narrowing down your choices? I can do that research for you or with you. Which do you prefer?”

This reinforces your support while also moving the process forward. If you can take care of those smaller details, like narrowing down their list of potential communities, they can focus their energy on making their final decision.

To Find More Resources

The better prepared you are before you begin your conversation, the more calm and comfortable you will feel. Learn more about how to prepare for and have a senior living discussion with our resource Having the Conversation: Talking to a Parent About Senior Living, which is packed with even more good information.

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