STARTING THE CONVERSATION
Talking to your parents about needing help around the home can be a daunting task. These conversations are usually not easy. When adult children speak about getting help or senior care options, many parents only hear 'a loss of control and a loss of their independence'. A recent survey revealed over 50% of parents and over 60% of their adult children have avoided initiating the conversation. If you are part of this group, know you are not alone. But talking about the various types of senior living arrangements, whether in or outside of the home, is a task best performed long before the need arises.
If the conversation is initiated after the need arises, whether it is a traumatic event, like a fall, a hospitalization, or a noticeable loss of cognitive function (as in Alzheimer’s or other causes of dementia) understand that stress levels will be elevated, and emotions tend to run high. Major changes in life only add to the stress. Many seniors and their families seem to struggle with transitions involving loss of independence, losing driving privileges, financial control of assets and the need for ongoing care. And many families will often disagree about the best course of action.
But all is not lost and beginning the conversation does not have to be as traumatic as the events that may precipitate the need. Here are a few tips on how to begin.
Prepare like an executive would prepare for an important meeting. Start by writing down your thoughts and organize what you would like to say. This may take several edits and a little research. Talking with friends who have undergone the same experience or consulting privately with a senior Care Manager can provide valuable insight. Anticipate questions you think your parents may ask and explore your possible answers. Then practice the conversation in front of someone like your spouse, a friend or even by yourself. Once you are confident about what you plan to say, consider the following for your final edit and the actual conversation.
Be empathetic, put yourself in their shoes. Certain types of loss is a normal part of the aging process, as it has been for many centuries in many cultures. Loss of control and independence can be one of their biggest fears. Understand how they define dependence so you have a frame of reference on how to approach or adjust this subject. Remember, relying on friends and family for help is being dependent. But getting assistance from a professional, paid caregiver allows your parents to retain control, have self direction and
remain truly independent.
During the conversation, use good communication skills, starting with being a good listener. Ask open ended questions and truly listen to their answers. Avoid close ended questions that can be answered with a yes or a no. Open ended questions allow them to explain their answers. You will end up getting more information and it will help you better understand their concerns and expectations.
Try not to switch roles with your parents. You stay the adult child and let them be the parent or grandparent. Let them be the decision makers. Your job is to offer them suggestions or options rather than advice or demands. Remember that your goal is to respect and honor your parents by assisting them to plan for the next phase of their life.
If it will help the discussion, include other family members, friends or spiritual leaders. While you do not want an atmosphere of an intervention or appear to be “ganging up on them”, in some cases, extra support may foster a healthy discussion.
Finally, identify when things aren’t going well. No one expects that every conversation will be productive or every attempt to help will be successful. Know when to back away from the conversation and either approach it another day or bring in a third party. Sometimes an independent professional; like a Registered Nurse, a Care Manager or an Elder Care Attorney, can present information in an objective manner that allows your parents to assimilate the information and make their own informed decision.
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