Your parents’ home is a little dirtier than it used to be. Some unpaid bills are scattered about, and a check of the refrigerator indicates that they are not eating well. You begin to wonder if they are taking their medications and attending their scheduled doctor appointments.
You don’t want to face it, but you talking to your parents about aging is something that you can’t avoid. How do you handle discussions that may be difficult and frustrating for you and your parents?
Tips for Talking to Your Parents About Aging
1. Plan to Talk Before Issues Arise
These discussions should take place before the sudden appearance of significant physical or cognitive difficulties. In fact, they should take place before the signs of aging start to appear. These discussions are easier for everyone if an advanced directive had been created with your parents’ input, and someone had been appointed with durable power of attorney to carry out their wishes.
With this framework, much of what needs to be discussed can already be identified in accordance with the expressed wishes of the parents — without the guilt or difficult hasty conversations later on.
There are experts that can help when talking to your parents about aging. A care manager can sit down with you and your parents and review advanced directives and designate who will see that those wishes are honored. The care manager can also answer questions about things like health issues, benefit programs, home safety, and other resources available for seniors.
2. Determine the Needs
Are your parents cognitively well, but are declining physically to the point that adjustments to the home are needed? Would they benefit from some technology that could help remind them of doctor appointments and when to take their medications? Would home health be a good option, or is the move to a senior living community possibly the best solution?
To have an effective and productive discussion, you may need the input of fellow family members. You may want to talk to your parents’ physician, a therapist that is treating one or both of them, or a close friend who visits them often to get a better picture of the situation.
3. Prepare for Talking to Your Parents About Aging
Write down your thoughts and take them with you to the discussions with your parents. You are less likely to skip over important points if you have notes, and the conversation will be easier if you plan ahead.
Other family members should be present if they so desire. Make certain everyone assembled agrees about the needs to be discussed and the tone of the conversation. Also, the family should understand what each member can and will provide for the care of the parents.
Have some conversation starters in mind. Don’t just blurt out “We’re here to tell you that you can’t live like this.” Instead say, “We’ve noticed some things around the house have become a challenge for you. What is difficult for you, and what do you think we could do about it?” In addition, do your homework prior to the discussion, and have some possible solutions and resources in mind to suggest to your parents.
During difficult conversations, people tend to talk too much and fail to listen enough. Listening establishes your concern and openness. It also allows you to stay calmer.
Remember that you are in a dialogue with options being discussed by everyone in the room. No matter what needs to be talked about, keep in mind that it will be a change for your parents that they may not welcome. Plan for a lengthy discussion, and also prepare yourself for some denial, frustration, and anger from your parents.
4. Have Positive Options Ready
Stay positive during the discussion. Reassure your parents that you are there for them and their best interests. Don’t get focused solely on what you want to say to the exclusion of listening to how your parents are responding.
Explain your concerns: “You’re having some difficulty with stairs, and we’re concerned you could fall. We could move your bedroom to the ground floor. Would that work for you?”
Offer resources that are not a direct threat but would provide some security for your parents. For example: “We want to make sure, since you’re here alone, that you’re okay. Could we have someone check in on you periodically?” You may find your parents would welcome this but didn’t want to burden you.
5. Talk About the Car But…
After unexplained dents on the car, damage to the garage door and a traffic ticket or two occur, it may be time to consider whether driving is still advisable for your parents. Perhaps no other issue in the mind of a senior adult feels like a more direct threat to independence and self-reliance than giving up the car keys.
Some experts recommend taking a short ride-along with the parents. Monitor their reactions to traffic and how adept they are at handling the vehicle. Also, take the wheel and drive a few streets further away and ask the parents how to get back home. If this causes some bewilderment, you should be concerned.
When you get back to your parents’ house, you could ease into the subject of driving by talking about how many reckless people are driving today. Then follow by asking if they and their passengers might feel safer if someone else did the driving.
Be prepared to enlist the parents’ physician or other medical professional to talk to them about the risk they are running for themselves and other motorists by driving.
Ultimately, it becomes a safety issue, and the discussion may need to end with the removal of the car keys or the sale of the vehicle.
6. You are Still the Child
Even though you and other family members are going to be more involved in your parents’ lives, be mindful of your tone or comments. When talking to your parents about aging, do not sound like you are the “parent to your parents,” as this may end the conversation far more quickly than you intended. Be respectful, be patient, and realize there is probably going to be more than one conversation about this. If the discussion becomes too emotionally charged, back off and plan for another one later. Just remember, as difficult as these conversations can be, the consequences of not talking about the challenges your parents face or will face are far worse.
Taking the first step is never easy, but Bethesda is here to support you. Contact us to learn more about our Care Management program, and how our Care Managers can help you and your parents create a senior care plan before you need one.