Approaching Difficult Conversations with Mom and Dad

The holidays are upon us. It is likely that you are spending more time with your family and maybe even at your elderly parents’ house. While visiting you may notice concerning things like unpaid bills, dirty dishes or other signs of memory loss and need for support. But how do you start that conversation? Won’t your mom or dad become upset?  You can pretend that there aren’t any issues, but that doesn’t help your parent and only delays the inevitable.

Here are some tips for having that difficult conversation with mom or dad and overcoming objections to assisted living.

Educate Yourself

It is always good to go in prepared for a tough conversation.

  • Put together a list of your concerns and observations. For example, you may be concerned that their home is no longer a safe environment for them. Or perhaps they are making mistakes with their medication and that could lead to a dangerous results. Write all of these down.
  • Study how important environment is for older people. The environment is a strong factor when it comes to a senior’s quality of life. It impacts everything from mental health to physical safety to how long they will live.
  • Know the various senior housing options. Do some research and get some ideas of what might fit your mom and/or dad best. It can be tempting to downplay how much help they may need, but be objective as possible. Consider what they can afford.

Having this knowledge and learning about successful aging gives you more confidence and credibility. This isn’t making the decision for your parent, but just preparing yourself to be as helpful as possible for the talks and decisions that will need to be made.

Ongoing; Not One and Done

Beginning the conversation when your elderly parents still live safely at home allows you to talk about the future in a non-threatening, almost hypothetical, way. This results in a more gradual process than an event where your parent has been injured and the decision has to made very quickly. It also prevents the loved one from feeling ganged up on by their kids and this conversation is viewed more as a process where everyone’s opinions can be heard, but nothing needs to be acted on immediately.

Have the conversation in a casual and comfortable spot. A good example may be around the kitchen table. The focus being, “Let’s just have this conversation so we can be better prepared for the future.” And the key is to plan to talk again and again. While you or your siblings may want to wrap things up in one go, the reality is that this will be the first of a number of talks – unless your loved one is in imminent danger.

Tips for the Actual Conversation(s)

  • Talk face-to-face. This isn’t a conversation to have by phone if you can avoid it and certainly not via text. Pick a time when both you and your parent are relaxed and well-rested. And then ensure you can talk without interruption.
  • Utilize empathy, not sympathy. These are easy to be confused, but no parent wants their children to feel sorry for them. Use a calm, kind voice and demeanor to show that you care and that you’re trying to understand the fears/frustrations they may have. This can be a tough step to accept, but your listening to their concerns can be a great help.
  • Don’t rush the conversation. Your parent will probably need time to find the words they need to express how they’re feeling. And one of the biggest ways to ease the process is to come to an unpressured mutual agreement at this early stage.
  • Promise to keep your parent involved in decisions. No one wants to give up their decision making or independence, regardless of age. Consider having your loved one join you when touring various senior living communities. You can also visit friends and family who have already made the move. Having these first-hand experiences will help immensely when it comes to making a decision.

Ways to Start the Conversation

As with many difficult topics, the first step is the hardest. These conversation starters may help:

  • How is it living at home alone? Do you still feel safe? (You can mention specific safety concerns such as struggles in the bathtub or kitchen. Crime may be another fear they haven’t shared with you.)
  • Do you ever feel lonely? Why do you think that is? Would you like to spend more time with people your own age?
  • Talk to me about your feelings of driving. How has it changed from 20 years ago? Are you interested in other forms of getting around, so you don’t have to worry about getting where you need to go, car maintenance costs, traffic, parking, etc.?
  • How are your finances? What difficulties have you experienced with paying bills?
  • What aspects of caring for the house cause you stress?

Open-ended questions are always the best way to encourage people to talk. Your job is to just sit back and really listen to their answers.

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