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Starting The Conversation


Talking to your parents about needing help around the home can be a daunting task. These conversations can be difficult. When adult children speak about getting help or senior care options, many parents only hear ‘a loss of control and 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.
  • Anticipate questions you think your parents may ask and explore your possible answers. Be empathetic; put yourself in their shoes. Certain types of loss are 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.
  • Whether in or outside the home, talking about senior living arrangements is a task best performed long before the need arises.
  • Waiting until 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 increase and emotions tend to run high. Significant life changes 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 start.
  • Prepare as an executive would prepare for an important meeting. 
    • Start by writing down your thoughts and organize what you would like to say.  With several edits and a little research, this will help you on the path. 
    • Talk with friends who have undergone the same experience or consulting privately with a senior Care Manager can provide valuable insight. 
    • 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.
  • 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 genuinely 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 yes or no close-ended questions.
    • Open-ended questions allow them to explain their answers.
    • You will get 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 in planning for the next phase of their life.
  • If it helps 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 upon 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.