The old, two-story bungalow was perfect 30 years ago; but over the years it has become too quiet, too big and too dangerous for your favorite 80-year-old to navigate. In addition, mom’s heart condition sometimes makes her dizzy, she doesn’t cook anymore and she readily admits that driving the old Chrysler wears her out.

But when one of the kids suggests it might be time to consider independent living or assisted living, the proud matriarch puts her foot down. No way is Mom moving, she’s not ready for a “home.” Situations like this are not uncommon for adult children to face at some point with their aging parents.

This family has actually wisely initiated the sometimes delicate and often difficult discussion with their beloved elder about its members’ concerns for her health, safety and happiness. Even though it may feel pretty awkward, that’s okay because the best time to evaluate mom’s senior housing options is not after she falls and breaks a hip. The best time is right now before a crisis occurs, when she can participate in the evaluation and decision-making process in relation to the merits of independent or assisted living.

When and How to Broach the Conversation

Eldercare Specialist Stella Henry, RN and author of The Eldercare Handbook, observes that many seniors are unrealistic about their ability to maintain the old homestead and would prefer to avoid all discussion about the inevitabilities of aging. Still, Henry suggests family members need to start the “conversation” that lays the groundwork for choices about independent or assisted living.

“Ninety-five percent of my clients come to me in crisis situations,” says Henry of the majority who avoid the independent or assisted living conversation. “The result is a confused elder, disorganized yet well-meaning children and a family in chaos.”

To avoid the worst scenario, she advises that families talk to their aging parents or loved ones with care and sincerity. Gently suggest a visit to a friend who has already made the transition or to have lunch at any of several nearby independent living or assisted living facilities—her choice. If the parent shows total resistance, back off but don’t give up.

When they do show a little willingness or bring up the topic, take action and try a drive-by or pop-in visit. Stack the deck by calling ahead for an appointment with an administrator or social worker. Also, visit at mealtime or during a social activity so Mom can see that modern senior housing is the farthest thing from the “home” of her fears.