Skip to main content

The question:

I think it's time for my 80-year-old mother to go into a nursing home in the next year or two. She is still healthy but not as strong as she once was. How can I broach this subject with her and prepare her?

The answer:

Speaking to a parent about transitioning to a nursing home can be one of the most difficult conversations you may have. It may be emotional on a number of levels for both you and your mother. But having conversations about this well in advance is one of the best things you can do, to give everyone time to mentally prepare for the upcoming changes.

Before broaching this subject with your mother, you may want to spend some time thinking about what you want to say, what options there are, what timelines might make sense, and who else that is close to you and your mother could possibly get involved in the discussion (e.g., your father if he is in the picture, siblings, an aunt or an uncle).

Use your judgment on who best to involve. You want to remain sensitive to not having your mother feel she is being "ganged-up" on by having too many people present, but there can be value in considering having someone else present that is close to her, and who she feels also has her best interests at heart.

Let your mother know in advance you'd like to set some uninterrupted time to speak with her about some concerns you have about her health and/or living situation. This can help to make her feel like she is not being taken off guard. Try to identify an optimal time (e.g., when she is feeling relatively well physically, in a comfortable environment such as her own home, during a time of day when her energy level is reasonably high).

Keep in mind that you may need a number of repeat conversations over time to get to a workable solution.

Start the first conversation by genuinely letting her know how you feel. Express that you love her, that this is a hard conversation for you to have, and that you are only speaking to her out of concern for her for health and wellbeing. Describe the concerns you have about her health. Try to be as specific and objective as possible. Let her know you can imagine how difficult it may be for her to start to think about moving to a supported living environment.

Take the time to ask her how she feels and what is important to her. Appreciate that she may get upset, defensive or sad - this is all part of the process of making such a significant change in living status.

Listen to her concerns. Remain gentle and empathetic in your tone. Try to understand her concerns and perspective, and to the extent possible and reasonable involve her in all important decisions.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

Click here to see Q&As from all of our health experts.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Interact with The Globe