It's been in your head for a while, but now you assessed that your loved one really needs help to continue to live independently, safe and healthy.
Some necessary conversations never seem to get started because we fear we already know how they will end. That is usually the case when it comes to discussing care alternatives and living arrangements with older parents or loved ones.
However, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Starting the conversation can be easier with some preparation. Every family is different and there’s never been a “one size fits all” answer.
At Home Helpers, we support seniors and their families across North Central Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. This work has given us a lot of experience in family dynamics and ways of starting this conversation without having a confrontation. A mistake some people make is trying to lead with a solution. If you start out by saying something like ‘Mom, I’ve been thinking …’ or ‘Dad, you should …’ you’re going to put them on the defensive from the beginning. The person needs to be included in considering all the options since the beginning.
This “I know what’s better for you” approach also creates disputes between family members. In every family there’s one person who tends to organize things. Notwithstanding, in this case, you are dealing with an emotional topic and everybody who has a stake in it should at least be consulted. And that means that the family members also need to talk to each other.
With a little thought and preparation, any family can start an open and honest dialog that can lead to a plan which everybody agrees with and understands. The goal is to have your loved ones cared for, while reducing the burden on your busy family.
Breaking the resistance
To move out of the position of being an adversary who is suggesting something that they don’t want, start by asking open ended questions. Not just a series of yes-or-no choices: real questions about what your loved one enjoys doing and how they can keep as much of that treasured control and independence for as long as possible.
Here’s a list of themes you can explore and questions you may ask, as this conversation evolves. This is not a step by step guide. It is rather a series of ideas that you can use:
Is there anything around the house you need help with?
This line of discussion can help identify any immediate needs. Are certain tasks becoming more challenging? Is your loved one finding it difficult to operate or maintain anything in the home? Are their senses, balance and stamina where they’d like them to be?
Are the oven, range, refrigerator, dishwasher, etc., working properly?
When was the last time you used them? What did you cook? This question and any follow-up inquiries may reveal whether a senior is still getting proper nutrition. What, if any, obstacles are there to a consistent and healthful diet?
Are the washer and dryer working? How often do you do laundry?
Again, understanding the challenges our seniors face can help them anticipate their future needs. Even for a younger person, doing the laundry can be an exerting chore. For an older adult living alone, it may become easier to let physically challenging tasks slide when they become more difficult or inconvenient.
How is the car running? How often are you getting out? Where do you go?
We live in a society that is engineered around the automobile. The ability to drive oneself or ready access to shared transportation is in many ways the very definition of independence, particularly for older adults. As with all of these questions, it’s best to consider options well before an immediate need arises.
How are your friends? Do you see much of them? What’s new with them? How do you keep in touch/where do you see them?
Socialization is important at every age. Often a loss of mobility, a lack of energy or the declining health of friends and acquaintances can limit seniors’ ability to maintain relationships, with a negative effect on their physical and emotional well-being.
There is not a cookie cutter solution. If you ask open questions about their activities of daily living and how they have been dealing with them, you will be able to start a productive, helpful dialogue. You will be helping them to figure out by themselves how much do they need, if anything.