The Holiday Season & Difficult Conversations: A 2019 Caring.com Senior Care Report
The holiday season is a time of celebration and a chance to regroup, enjoy time with family, and reconnect with those that you love. But, this joyous season can also present some awkward or difficult situations as you may notice some red flags that your loved ones may need to consider senior care, such as trouble keeping up with chores and moving around the house.
While these issues are often brought to the forefront during the holiday season, the conversations typically continue into the new year as families have to make difficult decisions about senior care. “Every new year, we see a huge uptick in interest and demand for senior care options, including assisted living,” says Jim Rosenthal, CEO of Caring.com. “It’s common for our partnering communities to see an increase of more than 30% in the number of inquiries and visits in January and February.”
Since we know how difficult it can be to determine what or if your loved ones need senior care, Caring.com partnered with YouGov to conduct a survey of about 1,500 people to learn more about the conversations leading up to a loved one moving to assisted living. The survey covered the common health problems that may first be noticed during the holiday season, and the issues and difficult conversations that are ongoing throughout the new year.
What our survey found is that nearly 50% of people feel the conversation about getting care for a loved one was difficult. Of those that found the conversation difficult, over half said it was because their relative didn’t think they needed help. Though no two conversations, or families, are the same, we’ve outlined our key findings below to help you prepare for and manage the process of seeking assisted living services for a loved one.
Difficulty Walking is One of the First Signs that Someone Needs Assistance
Our survey found that 18% of respondents identified difficulty with walking as the first sign that their loved one may need to consider assisted living or some other type of care. Additionally, 13% said that struggling with housework was the initial clue that more help was needed, and driving and getting out of bed (transferring) were both identified as first signs by 12% of respondents.
It’s important to know the signs that may indicate that a loved one is no longer able to care for themself independently so that you are able to get them the help they need before a “crisis” arises, such as a fall or medical emergency that requires immediate care. Identifying the signs and planning ahead is also key in allowing the time needed for a smooth transition and a time of adjustment for you and your loved ones (more on that below).
In addition to the indicators mentioned above, other signs that your loved one may benefit from assisted living services include difficulty eating, dressing, and bathing, and incontinence. This is not an exhaustive list; if your loved one shows any signs that they are struggling to maintain the level of health, safety, and hygiene that they have previously, it is likely time for your family to start the conversation about getting some type of senior care.
88% of People Discuss Assisted Living Services with Someone in Their Family
Assisted living is costly, and can be life-changing for the person receiving services, so most people want to discuss their loved one’s situation with their relatives before making such a big decision. Our survey found that 88% of people discussed assisted living services with at least one family member. 33% of that group talked about assisted living with their mother, 26% of people had the conversation with their siblings, and some people consulted more than one family member. For those who do not get to see their extended family often, it may make the most sense to use the time together during the holidays to discuss a loved one’s changing care needs.
Almost 50% of People Found that Talking About Assisted Living with a Loved One Was Difficult
If you find it challenging to bring up the topic of assisted living, you are not alone. When asked how easy or difficult it was to discuss using assisted living services with family members, 31% of people said it was somewhat difficult, and a further 15% said it was very difficult- totaling almost half of our respondents.
It’s impossible to know exactly how your loved one will respond to your suggestion of getting care, but be prepared for some pushback and don’t be discouraged if the conversation doesn’t go smoothly at first.
It can be hard for some seniors to accept that they need help – the thought of losing one’s independence or moving out of their lifelong home and into a residential care facility may make them resistant to the idea of getting care. Our survey found that more than half of people (52%) say that it was challenging to talk to their loved one about assisted living because the family member did not think that he or she needed help. An additional 30% said they disagreed with their family member about the type of care needed.
Our survey also showed that 38% of people’s loved ones were not open to getting help whatsoever, which can lead to major tension when you try to bring up the possibility of assisted living services.
How To Talk To Your Loved One About Assisted Living
As our survey results show, many people find the conversation about assisted living to be difficult, albeit necessary. While the below guidelines will not eliminate all of the challenges associated with this topic, they can help you better handle these tough conversations and the overall process.
Do Your Research Ahead of Time
It may be tempting to make a comment to your parent or sibling as soon as you notice your loved one doesn’t move as well as they used to or has lost weight. But, don’t impulsively bring up the need for care. It will benefit all parties involved for you to take some time to think about the situation and research the types of care that you think may most benefit your loved one. Researching costs and the pros and cons of different care options, facilities, and providers will prevent you from wasting time and energy discussing an option that isn’t feasible or practical for your situation.
Part of your research process should involve thinking about how to broach the subject of getting care as delicately as possible. It’s a good idea to start small and test the waters, so to speak, by first asking your loved one about how they feel they’re managing housework or any health conditions. If they seem resistant to the idea of care, start by making a suggestion for a small change, such as hiring a weekly housekeeper or purchasing a medical alert system for your loved one to use.
Choose Your Words Carefully
When discussing the idea of moving to assisted living, be sure to focus on the positive aspects and the ways in which it can improve your relative’s quality of life, such as the amenities and social opportunities. Don’t repeatedly bring up what your loved one can’t do on their own, but rather all of the things that assisted living can bring to their life.
Additionally, emphasizing that you want to help your loved one and don’t want to force anything on them can help them remain calm throughout the conversation. Make sure your loved one knows that you want them to retain as much independence as possible, but also want them to be healthy and safe.
Listen to Your Loved One’s Opinions and Try to Be as Accommodating as Possible
Within reason, do your best to take your loved one’s opinions into account regarding their care. For example, if they love their current home and neighborhood, look into in-home assisted living options rather than residential care. If cost is a concern, as it is for many people, be sure to look into your state’s Medicaid waiver programs, which can give seniors more flexibility in choosing their care. While still making sure they’ll have the assistance they need, try to honor your loved one’s preferences to make the transition to assisted living, whether in or out of the home, as smooth as possible.
Remember that it can be very challenging for someone to accept that they need help, and don’t get angry if your loved one isn’t receptive to the idea at first. Understand that you may need to bring up the topic several times or present your loved one with several different care options until you agree on a plan that you both are comfortable with. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time- our survey found that it takes 18% of people 2-3 months to find care for their loved one following the initial conversation, and for 22% it takes even longer.
In some situations, such as if your loved one has a major health condition that they can no longer manage independently, it’s important to find them quality care as fast as possible. But, when circumstances allow, taking your time to explore several options to find one that works for both of you is worth the effort.