By Beth Lueders
How to Initiate The Conversation With Elders
Your mother keeps forgetting to take her medications. Your father balks at bathing and is unsteady on his feet. You hesitate to talk with your ageing parents about their care needs and future plans, but they are showing signs of needing more help. How do you and the rest of the family start a positive dialogue with your parents about home care?
Initiating the conversation with an elderly loved one can feel daunting and is why Right at Home has developed RightConversationsSM for effective communication between you and your ageing family members. A practical approach in the family caregiving process, the complimentary RightConversations offers these 10 tips and tools for discussing your relative’s preferences and possibilities for in-home assistance:
- Gather accurate, relevant information to help you assess signs of your elder’s changing needs. Note if your older loved one can no longer perform certain tasks. Accompany your elder to doctor appointments to get a firsthand report of your ageing family member’s condition. The RightConversations Information Journal keeps personal, medical, insurance and financial information about your elder in one convenient place.
- Determine the level of concern warranted by observing signs your loved one needs additional support. Are bills being paid? What about spoiled food in the home? As you explore and validate your concerns, consider using the RightConversations Family Action Planner, which organises care assistance needed and tracks delegated tasks for family members and service providers.
- Review the facts and avoid personal biases so your loved one does not feel judged or pressured into what you want. Be aware that unresolved issues such as built-up anger or frustration from the past may block current dialogue. Limit your assumptions about your elder’s well-being and stick to factual observations.
- Involve siblings from the beginning in conversations with your older parent or relative. This may mean putting aside personal challenges with a brother or sister to seek the interests of your parent. Your elder may be sharing varying information with different family members, so it’s important to address these differences upfront.
- Plan the conversation to keep your thoughts organised. The RightConversations Communication Planner can help you think through realistic goals and how your family members will work as a team during the discussion. Practicing key points and open-ended questions for your time together will cultivate trust and productive conversation.
- Create a positive conversation by listening with intent to understand rather than to respond. The goal is not to give advice but to express love and concern for your ageing loved one. Sharing feelings with a friend, counselor or support group can help keep your emotions in check during family discussions.
- Be aware of differences in communication styles among siblings and other family members. The RightConversations guide includes a chart of seven personality characteristics and how to collaborate with these individual traits. For example, a reserved person may seem disinterested in the discussion, but open-ended questions can help draw this individual to engage in the dialogue.
- Understand why your loved one may withhold information or resist sharing emotional vulnerability. Keep in mind that elders typically come from a generation of holding personal thoughts and fears to themselves. While you are focused on protecting your parent’s home environment, your mother or father may be afraid of losing their independence or being abandoned in a care facility.
- Do not make your loved one feel ambushed by a “you” versus “us” approach. Take time to acknowledge each other’s perspectives and focus on partnering rather than acting in opposition.
- Be prepared for what to do if your loved one says “no” to suggestions for personal assistance and home care. If the conversation stalls, be prepared to take a step back and give your elder time to think through your words and concerns. Try positive language such as “by doing ____, we are able to keep you in your home longer” or “we can spend more time together by doing ___.”
While it can be disconcerting to see older loved ones show signs of needing more assistance with daily activities, many elders are actually relieved their families notice and care. Exploring caregiving concerns and options together makes for shared decision making and meaningful relationships well beyond the initial conversation.
What holds you back from initiating a care-planning dialogue with a elder loved one?
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including ageing and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.