“Tough Talk” Tips for Difficult Conversations with Aging Parents

Imagine a friend or family member telling you that you need help. That they don’t think you are taking proper care of yourself or your home. talking with an elderly parentAnd, suggest that maybe you relocate. That conversation would likely be very quick, ending in bad feelings all around. Our natural defense mechanisms like “projection” or “denial” can blind us from what is clearly evident to others around us.  Either we don’t see that our needs are changing or we refuse to. That doesn’t change the fact of some cognitive impairment or balance and safety issues when they exist.

Be Prepared

Choose a mutually agreeable time and place to have a conversation. Research solutions to the situations you are raising. Don’t try to cover every problem in one conversation. In fact, it can take several discussions to reach a compromise or accept help. Take your parent’s feelings to heart. When they react in anger, it can also be embarrassment, anxiety, and a genuine fear of a loss of control. So, be clear on what you wish to discuss with your parent, share your concerns, and research the topic so you have factual information to give, be patient, calm and listen to your parent’s concerns. Because the topic is a serious one, know that it will likely take follow up discussions which may include another family member and professionals in their lives.  Be sympathetic as you would be with a friend. Acknowledge their feelings and fears.

 Cannot Force an Adult to Do What You Want

A legally competent adult, no matter what age has the right to do what they wish, within the law. Therefore, cajoling and kindness is more helpful than threats and harshness. Trying to prevent a fall is sensible but sometimes, you just have to hope there is no injury and then pick them up. Changes often come after an event occurs, even when prevention is the better goal. You are there to express your concerns and offer options, being helpful but not making the actual decisions, unless your mother or father prefers you to.  Who will they listen to? Pick a time to speak with your mother or father when they are at their best;  when there isn’t an appointment scheduled before or after, limit distractions, when they aren’t ready to eat, nap or do something prescheduled.

What’s Behind the Words?

Really hear what they are saying, not just the words but the emotions. Are they  “hearing” a threat to their own self-esteem,  having a stranger in the home, financial costs and running out of money and fear of what happens next. You can be direct in voicing your concerns or indirect by sharing a story of a friend or colleague and their parents or a news story etc.  Acknowledge that you understand this is a difficult topic, and that it is for you as well. Emphasize your concern comes from love. Remind them of how they helped raise you and that you feel respect your filial relationship to them. Explain that you don’t want some small thing to become bigger, but rather to solve it when it is more manageable. Consult a expert when the conversation is with a parent who has Dementia.  You may ask open ended, general questions:

Do you plan to remain living in your current home or have you ever thought of relocating?

Has anyone you know moved into a senior community?

Would you feel freer not dealing with the house?

Do you feel lonely sometimes and wonder whether spending time with people your own age may be a nice thing?

Is it getting harder to manage any of the following: Medications, shopping, cooking, laundry, driving, and finances?

What would you do if there was a medical emergency or a fall?

Have you considered adding some safety features to your home – lighting, grab bars, railing, ramp, an emergency button?

Go at your parent’s speed unless they are truly at risk. It is amazing how having a few hours of help a week can make a positive difference for all concerned.