As parents age, children sometimes go from the ones cared for to the ones providing care. Or, in some cases, it’s their role to lead conversations with parents with declining physical or mental health regarding changes in care, moves to senior living, downsizing, or other difficult topics.
But, these conversations can be difficult, stressful, and even unpleasant. It’s not easy for aging parents to admit they may need more than they can provide themselves. That’s why it’s important to approach these conversations with love, care, and honesty.
Here are some tips on how to have conversations with your aging parents and their health, including how to open the door, and how to have honest dialogue about long-term solutions to their aging and health.
CONVERSATIONS YOU MAY NEED TO HAVE WITH YOUR AGING PARENTS
Talking about aging with a parent can be intense, and often these topics can be overwhelming, scary, or awkward. A few of the common topics you may need to talk to your parents about include:
- Estate planning
- Long-term care planning
- Immediate or long-term health issues
- Mental health
- Living arrangements
- End-of-life planning
SIGNS YOUR AGING PARENTS MAY NEED HELP
So, when should you start a conversation with your parents about their changing needs? While it’s recommended to start the conversation as early as possible, before physical or mental challenges present themselves, there are a few signs your parents may need additional assistance:
- Increased forgetfulness, especially if it puts your parents’ safety at risk.
- Signs of depression, including moodiness, irritability, fatigue, and insomnia, as well as missing appointments or canceling social plans.
- Recent falls, injuries, or other accidents in the home.
- Noticeable, sudden weight loss.
- Lack of hygiene, including personal hygiene or signs your parents can’t keep up with regular housekeeping and cleaning activities.
- Unexplained bruises or injuries, such as burns, scars, blisters, or peeling skin.
- Mobility problems.
TIPS FOR COMMUNICATING WITH AGING PARENTS
- Start discussions early. Don’t wait until your parents are experiencing declining physical or mental health to start talking about plans and transitions. It’s important to have these conversations now, in order to avoid conflict and stress that can occur when finding a resolution becomes a rushed decision.
- Stay positive and patient. The main goal of these conversations is for your parents to be open and honest, but feel supported and comfortable with any decisions made. Be realistic and don’t make promises you can’t keep, but keeping the conversation positive can help your parents feel better about any decisions.
- Let your parents guide the conversation. Pay attention to points or concerns they may bring up, things they may want or need, and thoughts or feelings they have about different solutions or changes. Don’t force your own thoughts and opinions on them, but keep an open mind about how their wants and needs can continue to be met.
- Listen and show empathy. Step into their shoes, and try to understand the confusion, stress, and even fear your parents may be feeling. Be empathetic to the loss they are experiencing when it comes to health, mobility, independence, and control. Listen to their concerns, and help show their voice is really heard.
- Ask thoughtful questions instead of giving advice. Start the conversion casually. Ask a few small, casual questions every so often. Ease into the conversation if you can, and do your best to understand your parents from their point of view through questions—instead of telling them what you think they need. Doing so can make them feel out of control and unheard, which can be stressful and make the situation difficult.
- Offer choices when possible. If you have time, offer choices that meet your parents wants and needs. Let them be a part of making the final choice. It’s critical they feel comfortable and confident with the choices made.
- Work with other family members. When appropriate, it’s important that all applicable family members are involved from the beginning. Before talking to your parents, talk to the family first. Determine what differing opinions may be, and set and agree on goals for what you’re trying to accomplish. Make sure you are all on the same page before going to your parents, because disagreement between you may cause more stress.
- Allow your parents to be part of the decision-making process. Your parents feeling as though they have choices and are able to take part in making the choice that they feel best with, can help them feel in control of the situation and make it an easier conversation. When they are able to offer suggestions, they are more likely to feel they have a voice and may be more willing to adapt to the changes.
- Take notes. In every conversation, write down what you talked about, answers to questions, and options discussed. Especially document decisions that were made, or questions that arose during the conversation that need answers. This gives everyone something solid to reference to ensure everyone remains on the same page.
- Ensure everyone understands the plan. Once decisions are made, it’s important that everyone involved—including your parents and other family members if necessary—understand the plan and are clear on next steps. This cuts down on confusion or questions later.