9 tips for talking with seniors about health and safety concerns.
You’ve seen the signs. You know it’s time to talk with your aging parents (or other loved ones) about your concerns for their safety and health. It’s a discussion that can turn the most easy-going parent (or other aging loved ones) defensive or leave them feeling that you’re intent on proving them incapable, when you’re truly just concerned for their safety and well being. Conversations about issues that develop due to aging aren’t easy, but open, loving communication gets everyone on the right track to finding solutions. Here are some tips for getting those conversations started.
1. Let them know what worries you. Example: “Mom, I worry about you falling, trying to carry things up and down the basement stairs. In fact, thinking about it keeps me up at night.”
2. Acknowledge feelings. Example: “Dad, I know you love this house. You’ve lived here all these years and I love it, too. I want to be able to help you stay here safely.”
3. Keep an open mind. Even if you’re sure you know exactly what’s needed, there is always more than one way to look at a situation. Example: “Mom and Dad, I’d like to hear what you think about getting some help so you can stay in your wonderful home.”
4. Listen first. Take a deep and let your parents talk first. Example: “I have some ideas, but first, tell me what you think about the situation.”
5. Be direct and honest—with love. Example: “I don’t know if your arthritis is going to get so bad that you won’t be able to do certain things like washing your hair by yourself. I worry about that! So please let’s think of some solutions in case that happens.”
6. Use others’ experiences. Use examples to show them that others have been in their situation and found solutions. Example: “I know my friend Gene and his parents found a great way to help manage their medications. How about I ask him what worked for them?”
7. Don’t try to do it all alone. Is there another family member or close friend who could join the family conversation? Often parents are more receptive to these kinds of conversations when a peer, close friend or even their personal physician is involved. Example: “Frank, I know that you have some thoughts about what might help Mom and Dad; will you share those?”
8. Start and end on “an up note.” There’s power in being positive. Example: At the start – “I love that we’re talking about this together.” As an ending – “Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about the hard stuff. It’s a real relief to be able to talk honestly with you.”
9. Don’t try to do it all at once. Family conversation actually is a long series of discussions, not simply a talk or two. The more you talk heart to heart about subjects that matter, the more normal it becomes.