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How to Talk to an Aging Sibling About Assisted Living

You probably learned a lot from your brother or sister. You learned how to argue, negotiate, collaborate and cooperate. These are skills you may need to bring into play if you notice signs that your aging sibling needs extra support. While it’s never a comfortable conversation, talking with your sibling about assisted living can ensure they get the help they need to live a full and enriching life.

A New Phenomenon

As baby boomers age, childless adults are making up an increasingly large share of the older population. According to a Census Bureau report, 16.5% of adults ages 55 and older are childless, and 40% of these adults live alone, giving rise to questions about who will support these seniors as they age. In many cases, siblings may find themselves in the unaccustomed role of caregivers and advocates.

Understand the Unique Sibling Relationship

Senior men toast their glasses while playing golf

Sibling relationships are distinctive in that they’re permanent but also voluntary. There are strong family bonds — shared history, DNA, cultural background — and an equally strong tendency to pursue individual paths. Research reveals other unique characteristics:

  • Sibling relationships become more important with age. Before age 45, adults tend to focus on career and other relationships. As they get older, they see their relationship with siblings as more positive and significant.  
  • Siblings have a strong inclination to support each other. According to one study, 60% of respondents said they would help a sibling if they needed assistance.
  • Sibling relationships promote well-being. Having a relationship with a sibling can increase life satisfaction, morale, psychological well-being and emotional security in seniors.

Yet sibling relationships remain complex. Even siblings who consider themselves emotionally close to each other maintain their individuality and independence. They don’t tend to share personal details or consult each other when making important decisions. And despite the fact that the majority of people questioned would support a sibling in need, only 7% had reached out to a sibling for help when they were in crisis. How can you bridge this unspoken boundary when you notice your sibling is struggling to maintain their independence as they get older?

Know What to Look For

You’ll feel more certain of your decision to talk with your sibling about assisted living if you know how to recognize the signs that your sibling needs help. Assisted living communities are ideal for seniors who need a helping hand with activities of daily living (ADLs) so they can continue to enjoy a full and stimulating life. Indications that your sibling might benefit from assisted living include:

  • An unkempt appearance. If your sibling’s hair isn’t brushed, or they’re wearing unlaundered clothes, they may be struggling with basic self-care tasks, such as bathing, brushing their teeth, dressing and managing medications.
  • Difficulty with home upkeep. Burned out lightbulbs and unsorted mail are a few signs that it’s becoming difficult for your sibling to perform the tasks that keep their home tidy and safe.
  • Increased isolation. Refusing social invitations or cutting back on activities can lead to social isolation and loneliness, which is associated with increased risk of cognitive decline, depression and heart disease.
  • Changes in weight. Weight loss or gain can point to difficulty with routine tasks like meal preparation or shopping for groceries.
  • Mobility challenges. Difficulty walking or getting out of a chair or bed can make all other routine tasks and self-care more difficult.
  • Moodiness or lethargy. Changes in mood, such as crankiness, unexplained anger, or a sudden disinterest in favorite pastimes can point to a need for extra support.
  • Difficulty driving. An uptick in fender benders or dents in the bumper of their car suggest that driving has become more difficult and dangerous.

When It’s Time to Talk

Three siblings sitting together in 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 first. Familiarize yourself with the basics of assisted living and everything it has to offer so you’ll feel more comfortable recommending it to your sibling.
  • 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. You can approach the issue in a spirit of cooperation if you ask questions rather than give advice. 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.
  • 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, such as assisted living, be open to hearing their ideas, too.
  • Accept delays. The move to assisted living is a major life transition. While you may believe your sibling will be happier in a community where they can get the support they need, it can take time for them to adjust to the idea.

Explore Solutions Together

Including your sibling in the search for the ideal community can open their eyes to all the benefits assisted living has to offer. It can also empower them, so they feel more invested in the process and satisfied with the eventual choice.

As you begin your search, consider touring The Ridge. We’re elevating senior living with our focus on state-of-the-art care and a life enriching environment. You can learn more about your sibling’s options and discover the best fit for their care needs with this quick 4- to 5-minute survey at our Denver, Holladay, Utah and Salt Lake City locations. Or contact us to schedule a tour.