Discussing Aging with an Elderly Loved One
As our parents or other loved ones age, it’s natural for us to become concerned about their well-being. Are they living safely in their home? Should they consider moving to a senior living community? Is it time for them to give up their car keys? Have they made their medical wishes known to their doctor and family members?
But discussing these issues can be awkward. Your loved one may feel like you’re intruding into a part of their life that’s personal and private. Additionally, discussing such topics signals a shift in family dynamics. As a youngster, you had to listen to your parents giving advice and may have chosen to ignore their counsel at times. Now you want them to hear your concerns. Additionally, these are sensitive topics, where intentions can be easily misunderstood – parents may mistake a concern for their well-being as an attempt to erode their independence.
But when your loved one’s safety is at stake, the alternate to not having a conversation could have disastrous consequences. Experts agree that the best time to have such conversations is before a crisis occurs. A series of smaller conversations – over a morning cup of coffee or an evening scenic drive – can pave the way to consensus on actions to take in the future.
Here are some tips on how to approach these issues with an elder loved one. These tips work regardless of the topic – whether it’s expressing concern over the fact that they’re still driving or considering moving to a senior living community.
Look for opportunities
It’s likely many of your parents’ friends are experiencing similar challenges. If your mother mentions a friend who is moving to a senior living community, ask how she would feel about doing that and be ready to discuss the many advantages of doing so.
Be empathetic to their situation
Embrace a spirit of compassion and respect. Change is hard for most people and can be particularly hard when it means acknowledging getting older and having to adjust to new realities. Show your parents that you understand their concerns and that your greatest wish for them is for their optimum well-being.
Be willing to hear opposing points of view
While you may be primarily interested in your parents’ safety, they may be more interested in retaining their independence. Stay open and really listen to their concerns and then work with them to find a solution that meets everyone’s objectives.
Avoid talking about the past
Many families have some dysfunction and there may be some leftover “baggage” and hurt feelings. Avoid bringing these issues to the table, if at all possible. Stay focused on the future and what’s in the best interests of everyone involved.
You may feel that your parents are being “difficult” or avoiding you when you try to bring up sensitive issues. If your parent shuts down a caring conversation that you initiate, try to remember how frightening it is for most older adults to talk about a future that may involve illness, decline, moving from home, death and dying. Once you understand what is underneath the resistance, you are in a better position to help move things forward in a gentle and caring way.
Offer to be a resource
If you’re meeting resistance, offer to help find solutions. If it’s giving up the car keys, provide a list of transportation options. If it’s moving to a senior living community, find some communities and go there with your parents to take a look. Let your parents know they’re not in this alone and you’ll be with them along the way.
Finally, if you’re not sure what may be best for your loved one, enlist the services of an Aging Life Care Professional®. These individuals are neutral and objective experts in helping people age well. They can perform a needs assessment, make recommendations and provide resources that will allow your parents to age with dignity and grace.