Talking to a loved one about the need to transition into memory care is the definition of a “courageous conversation.” It brings up a myriad of emotions, including fear, sadness, grief, shifts in power dynamics, feelings of powerlessness, and the frustration that comes along with the everyday ins-and-outs of living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Speaking Compassionately & Effectively About the Need for Memory Care
After decades of providing compassionate, stimulating, and research-based memory care, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to talk to individuals about this very necessary and life-enhancing transition.
The following are some of our suggestions for how to broach the topic and how to remain an open and engaged listener – as well as informer – throughout the conversation(s).
Have the First Conversation as Soon as Possible after a Diagnosis
By the time most individuals are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they’re already experiencing a grave shift in life as they knew it. That being said, in the throes of what we know is a progressive disease, this point in time is also their most cognizant when compared to what comes next.
For that reason, we highly recommend having the conversation about memory care options sooner, rather than later, so the individual has a say in their own future. The more he or she feels a sense of autonomy and empowerment – even visiting various memory care communities with you – the better it will be as decisions have to be made.
Think of this as the first in a series of ongoing conversations.
Unless your loved one jumps right on board (it does happen, but this is less common), you should think of this as a series of conversations as opposed to a single conversation in which all the decisions need to be made. In this way, more space is created for everyone to process and come to terms with the reality of the situation.
That is another reason why your first conversation should be brought up as soon as possible, rather than choosing the ostrich in the sand approach – wherein everyone is more emotionally charged because of a compressed timeline and more acute need for now-based solutions.
Start with the “what-ifs” and the “what are.”
Rather than jumping right into the, “you need to move into a memory care center…” conversation, the first conversation might be more about the “what ifs” and the “what are…?”
- What is our plan if something happens to me?
- Do we both have advanced directives and a will/trust on file with an attorney or trusted family member?
- What would you want if I’m no longer able to care for you – physically or even emotionally?
- What if we need to finance long-term care options? What are the options?
- What plan makes you feel the safest and cared for?
These questions are natural lead-ins to the “elephant in the room” you’re planning to discuss anyway and may bring about a more open engagement if the conversation leads naturally in that direction – as opposed to more abruptly.
Be clear about the options before having the conversation.
As the facilitator of the conversation, it’s important that you are clear on the available options so you can remain as centered and calm as possible. If you are unclear or confused – or have a myriad of flyers on hand but no real sense of which option is best – the more confusing it will be for you and your loved one.
Learn as much as you can about the individual’s financial status and options, whether or not they have a long-term care insurance plan, whether or not s/he is available for veterans benefits, the projected proceeds from liquidating a home or part of an estate, etc. Of course, many seniors are tight-lipped about this information in which case you’ll have to make your best guestimates and choose your prospective care options from there.
Once you’ve narrowed things down, you’ll have more concrete examples to share, discuss and/or tour over the course of the next weeks, months, or even years (if your loved one is healthy enough to do so).
Listen to all of your loved ones’ concerns and do not respond until they have finished.
This sounds so easy, and yet listening to “expected” resistance or arguments often means listening with a rapid-fire or emotionally charged response at the ready. This is very normal because you, too, are upset and saddened to even have this conversation in the first place.
Thus, the more you can provide space for truly listening, quietly and really connecting with the fears, feelings, and concerns raised by your loved one, the more supportive (and less threatening) your responses will be.
Consider the idea of a home care to memory care transitional timeline.
One thing is clear, the fewer transitions there are the better. Thus, it’s typically not recommended that you move a loved into an independent-assisted living community if you know a second transition to a memory care community is a given. If the individual is absolutely against the idea of making a transition into a memory care center sooner-rather-than-later, consider a more phased approach to the process.
Adding a caregiver or two into the weekly routine – preferably using a home care service that specializes in memory care may be the better place to start. Then, when the time is right and the individual has progressed to mid-stages of the disease, caregivers can assist with making the transition into the memory care center that you and your loved one have chosen.
Bring people your loved one respects into the conversation.
We often listen best when speaking with those who aren’t as close to us. Within these more “polite” relationships, we’re less emotionally triggered and more open to admitting the reality of what’s happening for us.
For this reason, it can help to get others on board. If you are a spouse or child of someone with dementia, consider whether another family member might be a convincing advocate. Trusted physicians, clergy members, a therapist, long-time friends, former colleagues – all may help to ease the conversation with their more objective, yet caring, opinions and viewpoints.
Discuss the benefits of memory care.
The good news is that research is on your side. We now know that diet, stress reduction, social engagement, healthy sleep habits, avoiding head injuries, etc., can potentially slow down the progression of dementia.
Memory care centers provide places where those diagnosed with dementia-related conditions live more actively and independently for longer as a result of the memory-specific care they receive.
Speak positively about the options.
This isn’t to say you should sugar-coat things – but language and vocabulary matter when framing the possibilities and potential changes. For example, the word “facility” is cold and not very appealing – whereas “community” or “center” can strike a completely different chord. Your tone should always be respectful and come from a place of love and support, rather than a lecture or a talking-to.
If you find yourself or your loved one are triggered, and things are heated, pause the conversation and continue when everyone is in a better frame-of-mind.
Contact Us before You Start the Conversation
Our staff has helped families with these tough discussions many times in the past. Our experts can provide you with talking points, informational resources, and other things that can help get the conversation started at home. And when you’re ready, feel free to bring your family and loved one out to tour one of our Memory Care Facilities.