How to have Hard Conversations with Aging Parents
Nothing makes adult children more nervous than finding the right words to use when having hard conversations with their aging parents. No one wants to contemplate needing additional care one day, so it’s better to understand your aging parents’ preference before a crisis occurs. For older adults, these topics stir up fears of losing their independence and control, which may increase their resistance to change. The following is what can be done to overcome this resistance.
Prepare for the Conversation
First, choose the right time and place to have this conversation. Choosing a calm, quiet, and familiar setting before you start will ease the transition into having this serious conversation. Avoid stressful, noisy places for these conversations.
Learn more about community resources including adult day care, home care services, and assisted living facilities in your area, as you want to know what type of services are available for your parents.
Before the conversation, decide what issues need to be addressed with your parents during this conversation. Is it about their senior care needs? Or about certain problems that need to be addressed? Or is it about your concerns? Whatever it is you want to address, you want to be upfront about it. Tell your parents what you’d like to talk about and why it’s weighing on your mind. You want your parents to understand that you’re motivated by your concern for them. Express that concern, then ask how you can help. Look for an opportunity to have this discussion when everyone is relaxed. Then take the plunge.
Show empathy throughout the conversation.
Stick to the positives. Does your aging parent respond openly? Defensively? Evasively? This will give you important insight into how to proceed. In the first talk, you want to float the issue, not solve the problem. You want to show in a respectful way that you can be a helpful and nonjudgmental resource.
Put yourself in your parents’ shoes. How would this conversation make you feel? Would you be scared of the future? The process of preparing for the future is not something that can be accomplished in one afternoon. it’s best to position yourself as a supportive helper. Phrase concerns in a way that won’t take control away from your parent.
Listen to your Aging Parents throughout the Conversation
Be a good listener, for example, let your parents talk without interruption. Pay attention to your tone of voice and your body language. You don’t want to sound or look irritated or dismissive. Paraphrase what you hear your parents saying, and repeat it back to them. Listen without judgment. Seniors want to speak and, more importantly, be heard. The goal is to encourage more input and to keep the discussion positive and collaborative.
Manage your feelings and encourage your Aging Parent’s Input into the Decision
Worry, anxiety, and frustration are common for adult children of aging parents. Lay your feelings aside for the moment. Remember that you love these people and want what’s best for them. Ask them what they think is best or how they plan to solve a particular problem. Make sure that none of your statements sound judgmental.
Reassure your Parents that the Decision is theirs
Don’t apply pressure on your parents to make an immediate decision. All you can do is continue the conversation in a positive way. In most situations, the choice is ultimately theirs. Talking to your parents gently and without reproach will have better results than being confrontational.
Keep Notes of your Conversations
Be prepared to visit topic multiple times. When your parent expresses what they would like to do in the future, be ready to record their thoughts. Once you’ve made some decisions together, write it down. Be prepared to visit topic multiple times.
Keep other family member updated on these Conversations
Be transparent with other family members by getting on same page with siblings. Try to include siblings in conversations or at least give them updates on what is transpiring so there are no unpleasant surprises. The more honest conversations you have, the more positive results.
Discuss your concerns as a family before broaching the topic with your parents. Have you or your siblings noticed changes in your parent’s behavior, functioning or mood? If so, decide how best to approach your parents. Try to focus on what’s best for them.
Be Patient when having these Conversations
Be prepared to revisit these conversations multiple times, as this will give them a chance to think about it. And be ready to continue the conversation at any time as this is an on‐going process. Difficult conversations are not one-and-done scenarios. Do not become discouraged. Respect the fact that, “change” to many people, is like a loss to them. Letting go may take some time.
Total resistance may mean it’s time to call in some extra help. If the issue is critical and the person still won’t make a safe choice, it may be time to get a family doctor involved to evaluate competency. If appropriate, activate a power of attorney or appoint a guardian who can make safe choices on the person’s behalf.
The need to face some difficult conversations may never go away, however; these ideas may help bring you closer to your loved one and make the process more gratifying. As family caregivers, we can only do our best. We strive to help our aging parents with whatever challenges they face, so they can remain as independent as possible and live their best lives.