How to Initiate Conversations with Aging Loved Ones

January 18, 2018

Home nurse talking to senior couple 78768320

A loved one keeps forgetting to take their medications or puts off bathing, because they are unsteady on their feet. You hesitate to talk with your aging loved ones about their care needs and future plans, but they are showing signs of needing more help. How do you and the rest of the family start a positive dialogue with them about home care?

Initiating the conversation with an elderly loved one can feel daunting and is why preparing and planning for effective communication between you and your aging family members is so important. Here are some tips and tools for discussing your loved one’s preferences and possibilities for in-home assistance:

  1. Gather accurate, relevant information to help you assess signs of your loved one’s changing needs. Note if they can no longer perform certain tasks. Accompany them to doctor appointments to get a firsthand report of their condition. Keep personal, medical, insurance and financial information about your loved one in one convenient place.
  2. Determine if the level of concern is warranted by observing signs your loved one needs additional support. Are bills being paid? What about spoiled food in the home? As you explore and validate your concerns, consider calling Moorings Home Health to help you organize care assistance needed and track delegated tasks for family members and service providers.
  3. Review the facts and avoid personal biases so your loved one does not feel judged or pressured into what you want. Be aware that unresolved issues such as built-up anger or frustration from the past may block current dialogue. Limit your assumptions about your loved one’s wellbeing and stick to factual observations.
  4. Involve siblings from the beginning in conversations with your older parent or relative. This may mean putting aside personal challenges with a brother or sister to seek the interests of your parent. Your loved one may be sharing varying information with different family members, so it’s important to address these differences upfront and for everyone to make every attempt to be on the same page.
  5. Plan the conversation to keep your thoughts organized. Think through realistic goals and how your family members will work as a team during the discussion. Practicing key points and open-ended questions for your time together will cultivate trust and productive conversation.
  6. Create a positive conversation by listening with intent to understand rather than to respond. The goal is not to give advice but to express love and concern for your aging loved one. Sharing feelings with a friend, counselor or support group can help keep your emotions in check during family discussions.
  7. Be aware of differences in communication styles among siblings and other family members.
  8. Understand why your loved one may withhold information or resist sharing emotional vulnerability. Keep in mind that elders typically come from a generation of holding personal thoughts and fears to themselves. While you are focused on protecting your parent’s home environment, your mother or father may be afraid of losing their independence or being abandoned in a care facility.
  9. Do not make your loved one feel ambushed by a “you” versus “us” approach. Take time to acknowledge each other’s perspectives and focus on partnering rather than acting as opponents.
  10. Be prepared for what to do if your loved one says “no” to suggestions for personal assistance and home care. If the conversation stalls, be prepared to take a step back and give your senior time to think through your words and concerns.

While it can be disconcerting to see older loved ones show signs of needing more assistance with daily activities, many seniors are actually relieved their families notice and care. Exploring caregiving concerns and options together makes for shared decision-making and meaningful relationships well beyond the initial conversation.