It should be a straightforward conversation, but many adult children find that talking about senior care with elderly parents is a difficult task. As perceptions of aging change and new senior care options abound, adult children find it confusing when their parents are resistant to new options.
This resistance, coupled with too much pressure from adult children and their own declining health, often hardens to resentment. And family resentment can slow progress to a crawl, leaving vulnerable aging parents at risk for falls, hospitalizations and other negative health events.
Our goal in this blog post is to help you learn how to have productive and compassionate conversations with your aging loved ones. To start, we’ll review our top three tips to keep in mind when talking about senior care with elderly parents. Next, we’ll model a sample conversation that we hope you’ll find useful. Feel free to print it out and customize it for your own purposes.
Top Tips for Talking About Senor Care with Elderly Parents
- Understand developmental drivers. Your parents don’t have the same developmental goals or drivers as you. It’s important to understand their unique needs and goals so you can relate to them closely. To quote developmental psychologist David Solie: “By examining the elderly person’s two developmental drivers—maintaining control and searching for a legacy—and how those drivers conflict with each other and with our own agenda; by looking at how these conflicts manifest themselves in their unique communication habits; and by understanding the predictable dilemmas the elderly face as they age, we develop a sense of how tough it is to be old and how brave our senior citizens are. Our understanding of “strength” deepens as we come to realize the unique strength of the elderly.”
- Slow down to speed up. Mutual respect and sensitive timing go a long way towards establishing a productive base from which to have a conversation. Chances are, you’re overwhelmed and juggling a job, family responsibilities and everyday life. When you add talking about senior care with elderly parents to your do-to list, you may become overwhelmed. While it’s well-intended, your sense of timing may feel rushed and hectic to your loved one. The harder you push, the more resistant they will become. No one wants to feel rushed or hurried when making one of the most important decisions of their life.
- Don’t negotiate on facts. Sometimes, out of a sense of guilt or just a desire to avoid conflict, adult children go along with their parents even when the facts don’t add up. This helps no one. While you can and should be sensitive to your loved one’s timing and their goals, it’s dangerous to ignore falls or general physical decline. The goal is to be proactive, not reactive, and in doing so, to help your loved one meet their goal of maintaining control over their life.
Framing Senior Care Conversations with Aging Parents
Goals matter when having conversations with aging parents so we recommend building consensus around a primary goal before starting the conversation. This can take weeks to fully define so be patient.
Here are a few examples to help you get started:
- I’d like to stay in my home for as long as possible.
- I’d like to stay as active and engaged as possible.
- I don’t want to be a burden to my family.
Once you’ve set a goal you both can agree to, you’re ready to begin the conversation about senior care. Remember our mantra of “slowing down to speed up”? This is where all the prep work pays off.
- Goal: Staying in Home for as Long as Possible
- Participants: Adult Daughter + Mom who lives alone
Hi Mom. Just stopping by to check in on you. How are you feeling after your fall last week?
I feel fine. You worry too much. I’m out and about. Everything is back to normal.
Well, remember when you worried about me when I was little? I guess the tables have turned, ha! I love you and never want to see you in pain. I was thinking about what the doctor at the hospital told us, Mom. And what you told me about staying in your home. I have some ideas. Is now a good time to share them?
Well, I love you too honey but I’m not ready for a senior community. I’m just fine. Everything is back to normal.
I understand – I totally understand and agree with you that you should stay in your home for as long as possible. But, this is the third fall in the last couple of months. I think the Doctor had a point about a serious injury. I know you want to do everything you can to avoid leaving your home.
I don’t want to talk about it. That won’t happen.
Maybe it won’t. But if it does, it’d make me feel a lot better if we have a plan. What is your plan for returning to normal if you fall again and have to go to a facility to recuperate?
Look, I really don’t want to talk about that. I thought you were stopping by to check on me. I’m just fine, and I’d like to drop this topic.
I understand it’s difficult to talk about. I’m sorry. It’s hard for me, too. I know you know there’s a chance you could fall again. I’m sure that’s scary. I’m not going to force you to do anything that you don’t want to do. But I do want to know what you want most.
I want to stay here. I want things to go back to normal.
I understand. That’s what I want too, and I agree with you that staying here in your home is what’s best for all of us. We’ll help support you in that any way we can. Can I ask for your help with one thing?
If I put together some options that may help to prevent falls and injuries so you can stay in your home, can we sit down and review them next week? No promises or commitments, just a review.
I guess I can agree to that. But don’t get too excited, I told you I’m not ready.
Great Mom, thank you so much. This means the world to me. Did I tell you the kids won their soccer game on Saturday?
Patience is a Virtue
When you start the process of talking to your parents about senior care, you may be surprised by how receptive OR by how resistant they are. They key is to push for alignment and to encourage self-motivation in your parent. You can’t force them to take action, but you can remind them of their goal and encourage baby steps forward.
In dire situations, there may a time and a place for “tough love,” but in most cases, we recommend being disciplined and patient. Another helpful reminder is to avoid making every conversation center around the topic of senior care. Remember that your parents are still involved and fully present human beings with interests and desires outside of their medical needs – treat them as such.
In closing, most people think finding senior care options is the most difficult part of the process. In truth, there are newer and better senior care models coming online every day. If you build a solid groundwork based on mutual respect and patience, you’ll find that hiring a senior care provider is the easiest part of the process.
Until next time,