Every week I get asked at least one time, “Beth, can you help me convince my mom to move into assisted living?” Another thing I hear regularly is “I am so frustrated with my mom. Dad has died, and she fell last week. I do not understand why she does not see the need for me to help her get some help in the home? What is wrong with her?” These are only a couple of examples of the tough conversations adult children have to engage in with their parents as they age, and they usually center around the 5 Key Challenges of Aging.
- How Will I Manage My Health?
- Where Will I Live?
- How Will I Cope If By Myself?
- How Do I Pay For It All and Manage My Money?
- What Is the Right Way to Say Goodbye?
Often times, the reason adult children get so frustrated with their parent(s) is that their life perspective is so vastly different from theirs. As an older adult, more time is spent reflecting on life rather than hurrying through the day. Older adults want to share their values, legacy and have a sense of control over things. Adult children are still juggling a career, managing a household, caring for children and grandchildren, needing to problem solve and are time-sensitive. Carrying all of these into a conversation with an aging parent is often met with much resistance.
Older adults need to have their feelings heard, first and foremost. Instead of telling them what to do, you have to probe what is important to them. Often, as an elder’s health deteriorates, it brings up the end of life decisions that may be difficult to process quickly.
So how do we enter into these conversations in a more beneficial and helpful way? Here are ten key tips for setting up and starting these tough conversations around health, lifestyle and living arrangements, coping and social support, money, and the right way to say goodbye:
- Put yourself in their shoes. Consider: Would you like to be told where to live or what treatment to undergo?
- Use an Active Listening approach that probes for how they feel about certain issues or provides information when requested.
- Listen to their nonlinear conversations and stories. When they are repetitive, try to discover what in that story communicates their values and what is important to them.
- Recognize where they are in the grief cycle, and research how to respond to this stage of grief.
- Help the elder in your life create a vision for shaping their future rather than forcing them into your own plan.
- Help your parent(s) carry their legacy forth and focus on the life that has been lived and will be lived going forward.
- Help your older adult see things as a new experience versus an ending.
- Realize this is not a one-time conversation, but it is a path you can chart together.
- Have Empathy. It will be you one day.
- Lastly, determine what topics you will tackle. If you are in crisis, you may not have a choice of which things need to be handled first. If not in crisis, begin with low lying fruit like creating a living will and determining your health care agents.
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Written by: Beth Cayce, the founder and CEO of CaraVita Home Care. For more than 43 years Beth has provided leadership, rehabilitation, and health management services in a variety of senior living and health care settings including the North Fulton Hospital, Piedmont Hospital, Northside Hospital, Wesley Woods, and Community Home Health.