Tough stuff: how to take on difficult discussions with aging parents.
At True Link, we know that tough conversations between seniors and their adult children can be one of the greatest challenges of aging. But we also know that addressing hard topics sooner rather than later can contribute to better, healthier, safer outcomes for everyone involved. We’ve written before about how to talk to your aging parents about their finances, but taking away the checkbook isn’t the only concern you need to discuss with mom or dad before it’s too late. Taking away the keys, moving to an assisted living facility, and knowing their end-of-life wishes are other topics many families dread.
To have a constructive conversation with an elderly loved one about any of your concerns, you need to be considerate and prepared. Take these strategies to heart and make sure you start off on the right foot.
1. Set the right tone: There’s work to be done before you even start a conversation with your parent. Thoughtfully choose the timing, location and participants of the conversation in advance to promote a relaxed, neutral, non-threatening environment. It’s important that everyone – especially mom or dad – feels comfortable and able to participate in the discussion. If your siblings want to be involved, make sure you agree on your goals and strategy ahead of time and can present a united front.
2. Put yourself in their shoes: Taking away the keys means more to an older adult than losing the ability to drive oneself around. This milestone is often one of the first experiences of decreased independence and kicks off the role-reversal with children who are taking over responsibility. Realizing this shift can be incredibly difficult and that handing over the car could make a loved one feel like their end is near. Be compassionate, address their concerns, ask questions, and imagine how you will feel when you are in their shoes.
3. Take it slow: According to the Boston Globe, professor Steven Zarit recommends that children “plant ideas, take a step back, and then bring up the advantages and disadvantages of an idea later on. The key is to stay engaged, but to tread lightly.” Aging parents may bristle at well-intentioned suggestions, so adult children should be prepared for push-backs. Forcing the issue can create greater conflict, so it’s best to let it go in the moment and return to the topic at a later time. This is not a one-time-fixes-all conversation.
4. Help maintain independence: As a parent begins to show signs of old age, adult children have a tendency to overreact. If your parents are just starting to exhibit mild warning signs, like forgetting where they parked the car or having trouble running errands, it’s likely not necessary to take over their lives and immediately check them into an assisted living facility! Instead, take baby steps that help them preserve their independence while giving you peace of mind. Make suggestions that are in line with their current needs and remember to have a two-way conversation about what is best for your family. Whether your concern is financial exploitation, in-home safety, or memory loss, there are tools available to offer your parents the protection they need while maintaining their dignity.
5. Don’t ignore your instincts: Knowing how awkward, difficult, and potentially heated these conversations can be, it’s easy to put them off for another day. But doing so can put your loved one at physical, emotional, and financial risk. If you think something is wrong and needs to be discussed, don’t ignore it!
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