Managing Tough Conversations with Aging Loved Ones
Broaching a sensitive topic with someone that you care about is never easy. If you have an aging parent or loved one who’s experiencing difficulties as they get older, tough conversations are almost inevitable. Whether your loved one has trouble driving or handling finances, suffers from poor health or would benefit from an assisted living lifestyle, discussions about such topics should be handled carefully to keep from putting a strain on your relationship.
“Certain conversations, such as suggesting that it’s time to consider moving to an assisted living community or to start making end-of-life plans, are difficult for both the parent and the adult child,” says Ruth Cantillon, Director of Sales and Marketing at Osprey Lodge in Tavares, FL. “Asking your aging father to stop driving, for instance, can leave that father feeling hurt and you feeling guilty. Yet, these conversations have to happen in order to protect your loved one’s well-being.
“With respect, patience and a bit of planning ahead, you can manage tough conversations with your loved one, taking the necessary steps towards enhancing their well-being while showing them – not just telling them – how much you care.”
Guidelines for Handling Hard Talks
According to Paula Spencer Scott, caregiving writer and author of Surviving Alzheimer’s: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers, the words you use and how you use them make a huge difference in tough conversations. She suggests several guidelines in her article, “How to Have ‘The Talk’ with Your Parents,” that can help you prepare for bringing up a tough subject with your loved one.
- Do Your Research – Before you talk to Mom or Dad, take some time to gather information on the topic you want to discuss. If you think your mom needs help with housework, look into local services that provide housekeeping and get estimates on pricing. Having these specifics already in mind will let your loved one know that you’re serious and willing to help them find the resources they need, even if they don’t yet agree with you.
It also helps to prepare what you want to discuss ahead of time to avoid blurting out a hurtful exaggeration or stumbling over vague concerns. If you’re worried that they aren’t safe living alone, think of specific reasons why you feel that way (e.g., multiple falls; left the stove on all night; has trouble getting out of bed). Communicating specifics could keep the discussion from turning into an argument of opinions.
- Approach the Issue – You don’t want your conversation to come as a complete surprise to your loved one. Scott suggests “testing the waters” first, bringing up the topic lightly to see how they respond. For example, if you’re on the phone with your father, ask how he’s been feeling lately or how a recent doctor’s appointment went. His response will give you clues as to how a serious conversation might play out.
Bringing the issue to the surface of a casual conversation will help to prepare both of you for a deeper discussion. If you hope to have the talk next time you visit, you’ll have some insight into whether or how much your loved one is willing to share, and your loved one will most likely have thought about the subject more since you mentioned it on the phone.
- Start the Conversation – When you go to talk with your loved one, set a positive tone for the visit. Rather than opening the door and saying, “I think it’s time you moved to a senior living community,” enjoy your loved one’s company for a while, and look for a natural opening in the conversation where you can bring up your concerns. You might feel that it’s best to wait until you’re both at ease and bring up the topic directly. On the other hand, your loved one may respond better if you address the subject subtly (e.g., I just heard that my friend Lisa’s parents moved to a retirement community, and they’re so relieved to not worry about housework anymore!).
- Listen Well – A successful conversation relies on active listening. Follow your loved one’s cues to know what to say next, and try to convey that you understand what they are saying. Then, move the conversation forward. For example, “Yes, I agree that moving is a hassle, but on the other hand, I can help you, and being in a better place could be worth it.”
Your goal of this conversation shouldn’t be to find a solution or come to an agreement by the time you leave. Instead, the goal is to encourage input from your loved one and keep the discussion a positive one. If it’s going well, ask them questions to further the discussion (What would be the hardest part about moving? Do you want to make a list of ways you could make your bathroom routine easier?). If they are resistant, though, do your best not to argue. Instead, try to find out why. If you think the conversation would go better with someone else, ask their doctor, pastor or close friend to talk with your loved one.
- Follow Up – Let the conversation percolate for a little while, giving you both some time to think more and reflect on what each other said. Don’t push the issue, but be ready to talk about it again at any time. Your loved one might initiate the next conversation.
Let your loved one know that you will respect whatever decision they make, even if you don’t agree. However, if your loved one is in a situation that could cause serious harm to them or others, you may need to consider a stronger approach or ask for help. But if they are of sound mind and not in danger, realize that you may just need to be patient and support your loved one however you can.
Your Resource for Senior Living Insight
“Those of use at Osprey Lodge have worked with lots of families dealing with tough issues as their loved ones age,” shares Ruth, “So we’ve seen it all! Our team is proud to be an experienced resource for seniors and their families.”
To learn more about how Osprey Lodge can help you and your loved one as you navigate the aging process, visit OspreyLodgeTavares.com or call today.
Come Flourish at Osprey Lodge!
Located on the banks of Lake Frances, Osprey Lodge offers Assisted Living and Memory Care services within the rustic warmth of a Colorado lodge in the rolling hills of central Florida. We provide an environment of socialization and volunteerism, as well as dependable health care services that promote independence, self-direction, social connections and daily purpose.
The Lodge lifestyle is a unique approach to senior living. While aging does come with challenges, our culture of connections creates an environment for residents to find daily purpose and joy. Here, residents don’t lose their independence. Instead, they receive countless avenues for which to connect with others through social activities or volunteer opportunities. We believe that everyone has something to contribute to their community, and we consider it our mission to help residents find what they can give – their skills, talents, company and enthusiasm.
Residents in our Assisted Living community and Memory Care program experience personalized, comprehensive healthcare services from dedicated, experienced professionals and staff. Each resident works with us to create their own Personal Care Plan, designed specifically for them to enjoy optimal independence while receiving the quality care they require.
We invite you to learn more about the fulfilling lifestyle and serves available at Osprey Lodge. Contact us today!