Moving Parents to Independent Living


Many older Americans express a preference to stay in their homes as they age. And while that option works for some people, it’s not the best choice for everyone. Independent living offers access to a vibrant, lively community that provides a safe and welcoming place for people who may not be able to keep up with the maintenance and repairs of a house.

Your parents have looked out for you over the years, and as they age, you want to return that love and care by making sure they enjoy a safe and happy retirement. Broaching the topic of leaving a family home—especially one someone has lived in for decades—is never easy. But if you’re noticing changes in your parents’ health and behavior, we hope these resources will help you make the transition.

Bringing up a difficult topic

The best time to discuss moving from home to independent living is long before a crisis. The holidays can be a valuable time to hold these discussions because all of most of a family may be gathered in one place. These conversations are tough ones to have, so it is important that all of the children participate, if possible. If one of your siblings can’t be at the family gathering, consider having them join the discussion by phone. Many cell phones also offer easy videoconferencing options through programs such as FaceTime and Skype.

It’s best to set aside some time for the discussion; this isn’t something you want to lurch into after a family dinner and before a slice of pie. Don’t be evasive or indirect. Tell your parents that you’d like to take some time during your visit to talk about their health and make sure they are getting the support and care they need to be at their best. The conversation is going to be difficult, so open and honest communication will generally serve you best.

It’s important to focus on asking your parent questions rather than speaking in declarations or demands. Saying, “You can’t keep up with the house as well as you used to and should move” is immediately going to make a parent defensive and could derail the conversation. Focus instead on asking them to tell you about their daily experiences. Here are some questions that might get the discussion going:

1. How are you finding the housework these days? Is it more challenging than it used to be?

2. Do you have any trouble managing your medications? Is there something we could do to help you with that?

3. Do you still feel like you’re able to get around the house—up the stairs, into and out of the shower—as well as you used to?

By allowing your parents to talk through their challenges with you, you’ll gather additional information that might not be apparent to you from observation. This will also help parents think through challenges that they may have not noticed, or that they’ve noticed but been afraid to share with you. Parents say one of their biggest worries is being a burden to children. By asking questions and inviting them to share information with you, you create an environment where they don’t want to hide challenges from you for fear that they’ll be putting you out or causing difficulties.

Keep the conversation going

Unless you’re operating in the midst of a crisis—and we certainly hope that isn’t the case—moving elderly parents rarely happens quickly. Now that you’ve begun the conversation about what your mom or dad needs to be healthy or happy, consider this initial talk a baseline. Revisit the topic on a regular basis. Ask Mom or Dad if anything has changed since you last talked. Is it getting harder to dress or prepare food? Is she feeling as well as she did last month? Does he still feel comfortable getting behind the wheel at night?

These regular discussions, which can be as long or short as you like, help keep the topic on everyone’s mind. That gives your parents opportunities to consider the best option for them without feeling pressured, and it gives you a baseline to work from as you evaluate your parents’ condition. You may even find it helpful to write down some occasional notes or observations after these discussions so that you can compare how things have changed over time. And if a health problem does develop, forcing a quick decision on leaving home for assisted living, everyone should have some useful information about their wishes and priorities.

Having these honest and difficult conversations on a regular basis should pay off in the long term. It will help your family form a plan that respects the wishes of your parents while ensuring they are safe and happy. One of the worst things that a family can do is avoid the topic of leaving home, turning the discussion into a taboo subject that gets discussed only in the midst of a crisis.

To learn more about the decision-making process and what The Clare offers, download our Guide to Senior Living.