Discussing tough issues with a senior loved one is not always easy.
Often, elderly adults find the role reversal of their children suddenly being in charge to be a difficult pill to swallow. Most older people want to remain as independent as they possibly can, and tough conversations can often feel like an intrusion into their privacy.
The goal of this guide is to help individuals learn how to tactfully conduct difficult conversations with their elderly loved ones, without overwhelming those involved.
Considering the Senior’s Feelings Is Essential
It is difficult for older adults to admit they are aging and are no longer able to do the things they once could. If a senior is finding it burdensome to care for him or herself, a dangerous situation could develop and it is time for a serious talk.
The conversation is going to be most effective if you can put yourself in the shoes of your parent or loved one, and think about how he or she might be feeling.
Having “the talk”, or any other difficult conversation, can be intimidating (to say the least). Suddenly, the child feels like they are taking on the parental role, while the aging parent may feel that they are being patronized.
It is essential for all those involved in carrying out the difficult conversation to be prepared beforehand. This is especially true when it comes to discussing an in-home care provider, advance care planning, or other major decision that must be made when someone is growing older. You must arm yourself with facts, and consider all possible options before opening the lines of communication with a senior loved one.
Gather Information First
Make the effort to be well-informed before entering into a hard conversation with an older adult. Be sure that you, and all those involved, are armed with facts and information to back up your claims. The last thing you want to do is offend your loved one by having the conversation revolve around unfounded and unfair accusations.
A good way to start is by observing the person carrying out day-to-day activities. That way, you can see how they are getting around, and whether they truly need extra assistance. Try and pay extra attention to the following areas:
- Bathing and personal hygiene
- Cooking and preparing meals
- Housekeeping and caring for the home
- General health and well-being, including the ability to manage medical appointments and to properly take medication
Careful observation can give a person a lot of information on their aging parent, grandparent, or loved one. It is wise to make a list of your observations and concerns, so you will remain on topic when the tough conversation begins.
Once you’ve made some observations, you should be able to determine the person’s limitations, and areas where they might be facing difficulty in caring for themselves. With this information in mind, you can begin preparing notes for the topics you’ll want to discuss when bringing up the possibility of hiring an in-home care provider.
Bring Up the Subject Lightly
Before initiating hard conversations with a senior, it is helpful to broach the subject in a casual manner. Think of some conversation starters that would get the ball rolling in a non-threatening manner.
For example: during a conversation, you could bring up an issue that you noticed your loved one struggling with when you were making observations. Do your best to keep it comfortable and casual. A great way to start sensitively is to bring up one of your own struggles, and then proceed to ask how the senior is coping with theirs. This is an easy and effective way to get the senior to begin to admit they might need help.
If the individual admits to struggling with certain things, including their health or responsibilities, this means they may be open to talking about hiring a senior care professional. Even if the senior is receptive to the conversation, it should be approached slowly and carefully.
Bringing up the subject in a casual manner, before any formal, sit-down talk, can help you gauge how the senior may react when you approach them with the difficult conversation.
Avoid These Common Mistakes
The way you approach your loved one, and when the tough conversation takes place, can play a big role in the outcome.
Seniors, just like anyone else, have good and bad days. In particular, seniors who are dealing with early Alzheimer’s disease or dementia symptoms or memory loss are likely to be more receptive if they are having a good day and do not feel overly frustrated.
The following are some mistakes that should be avoided when dealing with an uncomfortable conversation with a senior:
- Do not make accusations that could be hurtful, even if they are true.
- Do not monopolize the conversation. Listen as much as you speak.
- Do not make demands.
- Do not belittle or talk down to the senior.
- Do not raise your voice or become angry.
- Do not have the conversation when the senior is tired or not feeling well.
- Do not expect any major decisions to be made with one conversation.
The tone of the conversation can either open up the lines of communication, or cause them to come crashing to a close. With that in mind, remember that it is essential the talk is carried out in a loving manner.
Although emotions can run high when the subject matter of senior care is brought up, it is critical to keep calm and avoid raising your voice. Arguments are not conducive to an effective conversation, and will only lead to further problems.
How to Start a Conversation
Many people attempt to schedule a formal meeting with the senior in their life, but this approach can sometimes backfire. If the senior feels like they are being pushed or forced into something, they are likely to become upset, and may just cancel the meeting.
To avoid that, start the conversation slowly by asking how your loved one is feeling and how they have been managing their life.
If done correctly, the conversation should wax and wane smoothly, giving both parties ample opportunity to talk about their concerns and possible solutions to any problems that are discussed.
Any time humor can be brought into the conversation, take advantage of it! This will lighten the mood and keep the conversation cordial. The senior needs to know that those involved in this hard conversation are doing it out of love, with their best interest at heart.
Being patient is a must when it comes to tough talks. The senior should never feel rushed, and should certainly never be manipulated into making a decision they are not comfortable in making.
Tips For Speaking With a Senior on Tough Subject Matters
No one relishes having to approach their elderly parent, grandparent or loved one regarding sensitive issues.
However, if approached correctly, having these conversations will not be as stressful for either party.
- It is important to speak clearly and distinctly. Many seniors have difficulty hearing, even if they do not admit there is a problem.
- Make sure the conversation takes place with as few distractions as possible. Turn off the television and limit noise.
- Keep the conversation as light-hearted as possible.
- Allow the senior to be a part of any decisions being made.
- Start the conversation with compliments.
- Make sure to stay respectful at all times.
- Keep an open mind.
- Acknowledge their feelings and do not make it all about you.
- Be honest at all times, but show love.
- Use the experiences of other senior family members and friends as real-life examples.
Keeping a level head and a calm tone during the conversation will help everyone stay focused and unflustered. Because it may take more than one conversation, opt to open the lines of communication early! It’s easier to begin by discussing an easier topic such as hiring a non-medical home care provider and then move on to more difficult subjects like long-term care, end-of-life care, palliative care, and whether your loved one has an advance directive.