A Sensitive Encounter
How do you start to talk with elderly parents about the future? Probably nothing makes adult children more nervous because we fear the resistance, we fear starting a conflict and we fear the deadly silence. For sure, adult children and their parents often have trouble talking effectively. Small disagreements can be bothersome and frustrating. If they simmer and grow, they can poison the last precious months and years together.
What things cause adult children/parent misunderstandings? According to David Solie, author of How to Say It to Seniors, they occur in part because the needs and developmental tasks older parents face are quite different from – and at times even conflict with – those of their middle-aged children.
Because we often have family gatherings during the holidays, these can be an opportune time to have the “talk” or at least to “begin the talk.” Holidays are times we can assess whether our parents are still able to take care of themselves or their basic needs.We may notice that they are moving slower, no longer keep their home clean and organized, seem to forget things quickly, or seem frustrated easily. It is a time when we can assess how much we know about their plans for the future. And assess whether they have financial and other resources available for care in the future.
So how should you start the conversation? You’ll want to start small. And you want to start while your aging parents are fairly healthy, and if possible, when there are no apparent concerns. That way you have time to build slowly and have conversations about every area of their life and health without panic or pressure. It’s important to talk with your elderly parents now for your sake and that of your children and grandchildren. Unexpected crises with aging parents without proper planning can negatively impact several generations.
So when is the right time to start the conversation? Make sure your parents have time to talk. Not when they are distracted by needing to get to an appointment, or even when their favorite television program is about to come on. In addition, make sure you have time to listen. Don’t start an important conversation if you need to walk out the door in the next few minutes. Talking to elderly parents requires an investment of time and patience.
Often you can open the door to talk by tying your specific topic to direct experience.
“Dad, I just finished working with my attorney on updating my durable medical power of attorney. I was wondering when was the last time you took a look at yours.”
“Mom, I’ve been hearing the girls talking about them feeling unsafe to ride with you anymore. How are you feeling about driving these days?”
It’s important to be clear about your own motive for starting the conversation. If you feel annoyed, frustrated, or angry, this is not the time to engage in the “talk.” Your motivation needs to be solely for their safety, well-being and quality of life.
Make sure you select a “safe space” for the talk based on how your parents would define it. The holiday dinner table is not the place to talk with elderly parents about sensitive issues. Maybe you need to be outside the house at a quiet restaurant or some other nonthreatening place. If there is a relative who causes agitation for your parents, he or she should not be present.
Remember, this is not the time to get everything out on the table, just the starting point for ongoing conversations about your interest in their well-being now and in the future.
Future World of Wellness Home Care blogs will focus on specific conversations such as finances and other potential areas of concern.
Feel free to contact us a firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.780.7339 for consultation or other matters related to home care for your aging or disabled family members.