How to Communicate with an aging parent

As parents age they often become more dependent upon family members to care for them and help them complete daily tasks. This loss of independence can lead to emotional conflict within the family, particularly when it comes to conversations that may signal a further loss of freedom for the aging parent.

It can be difficult to start talking with your parents about where they should live, what their financial situation is, legal issues and other changes like whether they can still drive or what healthcare they may need.  

Resolving these issues requires gentle communication.

Here are a few tips to help you begin the discussion:

  • Find an appropriate time and location to have a talk. Let it be a place where your parent feels comfortable and relaxed. Also, ensure there is plenty of time for an in-depth discussion as you don’t want to rush them to make a decision.
  • Consider whether a third party that your parent trusts needs to be part of the conversation. This individual can sometimes help you both through tough topics.
  • Plan ahead about what you would like to accomplish in the discussion. What is your goal? Do you want them to move to a care home or are you simply trying to assess what extra help they need?
  • Be clear on what you want to discuss. Don’t try and come at the subject indirectly as it can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Restrain yourself from being too emotional during the conversation. It won’t help you or your parents if you get too worked up about the issue. Try and stay calm.
  • Practice the conversation with someone else before approaching your parents, whether it is another family member or a friend. You can get feedback from the other individual about how to handle your words and reactions appropriately.
  • Avoid having a must-win attitude. Instead, think about the conversation as a congenial way that you and your parent can work together rather than against one another.
  • When talking, stick to ‘I’ statements and discuss how you feel. Don’t condescend or imply that you are correct, and your parents are wrong if they disagree with you.
  • Listen without interrupting. Allow your parent to present their feelings and viewpoint.
  • Some issues cannot be resolved in one sitting. There may be topics that will need more than one conversation for your parent to come to a decision. Be open to the idea that it can be an ongoing dialogue.
  • Be gentle with your parents. Loss of independence can be difficult to accept. Don’t rush them into a decision or make them feel like they are a child. Rather, consider what it will be like to grow older and be considerate.
  • Accept that your job is to support, not dictate. Help your parent come up with solutions that will work best for them rather then tell them how it is going to be.
  • Be cognizant of the aging process. Many older individuals are at a stage in their lives where they do a lot of reflecting and searching for meaning in their experiences. While this can seem exasperating for their children who want to make a decision and move on, practicing a little patience can go a long way.

Conclusion

Having conversations with an aging parent over their loss of mobility or health can be stressful for both a parent and child. With some respect and consideration, the discussions can be productive rather than destructive to the relationship.

Written by Chandra Lye

 

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