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Does Your Aging Sibling Need Assisted Living? Here’s How to Talk About It.

Two older women sit on a park bench and talk together

Having older siblings can be complicated with a mix of cherished moments of joy, long-forgotten rivalries and genuine moments of love and appreciation. As we age, those relationships we may have taken for granted when we were kids become more vital. There even comes a time when you start to look out for one another’s health and welfare.

So, what do you do if you notice a sibling’s home isn’t as kept up as it once was, or they just have trouble getting around? How do you bring up the topic of assisted living to someone you’ve looked up to your entire life?

In 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau found 19.6% of Americans between 55 and 64 reported being childless, along with 15.9% of those 65 – 74 and 10.9% of those over 75. In addition, 27% of adults 60 and older lived alone, as do about half of women over 65. In very practical terms, if you have an older brother or sister who needs additional care and support, it’s more likely to fall you. Still, most sibling relationships are complex. For example, while most people said they’d support a sibling in need, only 7% had reached out to a sibling when they were in crisis. Luckily, there’s help available for navigating this potentially tricky situation.

How to Know if a Sibling Could Benefit From Assisted Living

Assisted living communities — like Lake Port Square — are designed to promote independence in a safe, convenient, home-like setting. Residents get help with activities of daily living (ADLs), including getting ready for the day, and have a calendar full of engaging activities. Here’s how to tell when a sibling needs assisted living:

  • Change in appearance: Unbrushed hair and wearing dirty or stained clothes are signs your sibling may be struggling with basic self-care tasks, such as bathing, brushing their teeth and managing medications.
  • Weight Changes: Losing or gaining weight can point to difficulty with routine tasks like meal preparation or shopping for groceries.
  • Changes in mood: Crankiness, unexplained anger or a sudden disinterest in favorite pastimes can all point to a need for extra support.
  • Difficulty with home upkeep: Burned out lightbulbs and unsorted mail are a few signs that it’s becoming difficult for them to keep their home tidy and safe.
  • Mobility challenges: Difficulty walking or getting out of a chair or bed can make all other routine tasks and self-care more difficult.
  • Driving difficulties: An increase in dents and scrapes on their car bumper, especially fender benders, can suggest that driving has become more difficult and dangerous.

How to Talk With Siblings About Assisted Living

Once you’ve decided that you need to begin a conversation about assisted living with your sibling, it can help to approach the subject as you would with any friend. Consider these suggestions for a constructive conversation:

  • Do some research: Familiarize yourself with the basics of assisted living and everything it has to offer so you’ll feel more comfortable recommending it.
  • Talk in person, if possible: If you can’t talk face-to-face, set up a video call so you can at least see each other during the discussion. Try to arrange a time when you and your brother or sister are well-rested and relaxed. Block out a time and a location where you can talk without interruption.
  • Start the conversation as early as possible: Rather than waiting for a health crisis or other emergency to force the issue, being able to tackle this difficult decision early can help all of you reach a decision and start planning with much less pressure.
  • Be honest: Let your sibling know what you’ve noticed and why it concerns you. It may be that they’ve been so busy coping with their declining abilities they haven’t thought to consider possible solutions.
  • Ask questions: Find out how your sibling feels about the challenges they’re experiencing. They may be relieved to talk about it and as ready as you are to find a solution. Asking questions allow them to see it as you seeking to understand and help, rather than offering advice or telling them what to do.
  • Listen, listen, listen: Your sibling may have anxieties, concerns and objections about moving from their home into assisted living. Don’t minimize those feelings. It’s important to acknowledge them and continue to ask questions so you can better understand their reservations. This acknowledgement will make it clear that you will respect their wishes.
  • Don’t rush: Allow your brother or sister the time they need to find the words to express how they’re feeling. Coming to an unpressured mutual agreement now will continue to pay dividends as you move forward together.
  • Stay on task: Remind yourself of the purpose of the conversation. Your goal is to help your sibling find the support they need so they can get back to enjoying life. Even if you have a specific solution in mind, be open to hearing their ideas, too.
  • Empathy, not sympathy: Keep your sibling’s feelings in mind by checking in with them throughout the process. Whether you’ve had one conversation or are already considering communities, it’s important to know how they’re feeling.
  • Plan to talk again. And again: As much as you might want to wrap things up in one conversation, the reality is this will likely be a series of talks. Unless your sibling is in imminent danger, that’s OK. It’s a process, not a one-and-done discussion.
  • Try to arrange a community visit: One of the best ways to alleviate worries about moving is to show your sibling what a community is actually like. This lets them get an idea of the lifestyle, amenities, culture and type of neighbors they’re likely to have.
  • Remember, it’s their decision: Unless your sibling is mentally incapacitated, they get to decide whether to move out of their home and into assisted living. You have the responsibility of raising your concerns, out of love for them, but it’s ultimately their choice.

Getting the Conversation Started

As with many difficult topics, beginning the discussion is often the hardest part. These conversation starters may help:

  • How is it living at home alone? Do you still feel safe? (You may want to mention specific safety concerns such as managing medications, falling on stairs, struggles in the bathtub or kitchen.)
  • Do you have a plan for long-term care? For example, if you fell or got sick and couldn’t take care of yourself at home, where would you go? How would you pay for it?
  • Do you feel lonely sometimes? Would you like to spend more time with people who share your interests?
  • How do you feel about driving? Would you be interested in other options for transportation, so you don’t have to worry about getting where you need to go, car maintenance costs, traffic, parking, etc.?
  • Ever wonder about having someone to help with housekeeping and laundry?
  • Would you feel less stress if you didn’t have to worry about the house?

Remember, open-ended questions are the best way to encourage your sibling to talk. Sit back and really listen to their answers.

More Assisted Living Resources

We’ve helped hundreds of older adults decide if assisted living is the best option for their loved one. To help you learn more about your options, read about home health vs. assisted living, assisted living vs. nursing homes and the cost of assisted living in Florida. You can also call us or contact us here to see if assisted living is the best option for your sibling.