There’s an interesting role reversal that transpires as parents age. Instead of them taking care of you and attending to your needs as they did in your youth, you may gradually find yourself in the position where you are the one looking out for them.
It’s common for some tough conversations to arise regarding your loved one’s physical, mental, and social health and what they need in order to live fully in the coming years. Some conversations are simple—such as finding out how you can help preserve your parent’s memories and legacy or whether you can visit and bring a meal to share a couple times per week. Others may be more complex and potentially emotional—such as discussing their housing arrangement, whether they need you to move closer, and who is managing their health.
How to Communicate with a Senior Parent
It might happen gradually over time, or it might happen because of a sudden health crisis, but the ramifications for both an aging parent and caregiver are often physical, emotional, social and financial. When roles and responsibilities within the family change, it can easily lead to misunderstandings, tension and conflict. Especially since the loss of independence that parents may feel during this time represents one of the top fears faced by seniors.
- Listen to Your Parent’s Concerns
- Be Cautious Offering Advice
- Ask What Your Parent Thinks
- Pick the Right Messenger
- Accept Differences of Opinions
- Prepare for Financial Conversations
- Communicating with Your Siblings
- Address Power of Attorney
- Pick the Right Environment
- Pick Your Battles
If you’re wondering how to talk to elderly parents about these issues in a compassionate yet constructive way, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves in the same position. The most important thing is that you care enough about nurturing your relationship that you’re looking for a little guidance. Here are a few tips to help you have difficult conversations with your aging parents:
1. Listen to Your Parent’s Concerns
Listening is key to effective communication with anybody. When you listen—not to respond but to simply soak in and understand what the person is saying—you create more fertile ground for a constructive conversation. Your loved one is more apt to consider what you have to say if you’ve let them speak their truth freely and without judgement. Additionally, it could well be that they are ambivalent and need time to think things through. Don’t rush to interrupt or put words in their mouth. You might even paraphrase what they’ve just said to show that you heard and understood them.
2. Be Cautious Offering Advice
Ideally, it is best not to offer your opinion or advice unless it’s asked for explicitly. That may require several conversations where you mostly listen and plant suggestions. You then can let your parent ruminate on those ideas until they are ready to ask for your thoughts or perspective. However, there are also instances where you cannot wait, especially if your loved one is facing immediate health risks. If you think their doctor is missing something about their overall health or prescribing too many medications, let your parent know they are losing control of this part of their life. The key is to be impartial; this is what you’re observing and how you’re perceiving it, but you realize it’s not your decision.
3. Ask What Your Parent Thinks
Effective communication with the elderly depends on helping them feel empowered and encouraged. Ask probing questions that lead them to discovering the truth for themselves—rather than you having to state it blatantly. Additionally, ask them how they think they can regain control of a certain area of their life, such as how much they're eating or their struggle with loneliness and isolation. Encourage them as they generate solutions and ideas. Be respectful and listen to what they say. Your parent might not consider the point a problem at all and they have that right. On the other hand, they may know the problem is arising but are afraid to face it or they may want your input but don't want to give up the decision-making control.
4. Pick the Right Messenger
Sometimes the best method for talking to the elderly is to not do it alone. If you think your parent needs to hear a hard truth—such as it might be time to give up the car, or reasons why they should consider transitioning to an independent living community—don’t be afraid to call in a third party, like your family physician or mental health provider. You may also ask a sibling to hold the conversation with you, but be careful it doesn’t seem like you’re ganging up on your parent. People tend to get defensive when they feel outnumbered.
5. Accept Differences of Opinions
As you know, differences of opinion are common among families, even if they’re very close-knit. When these differences arise, it’s best to stay calm and not interpret them as a sign your family is on the brink of collapse. Having different opinions is not an indication you don’t love and respect one another, and it’s vital both parties keep that in mind while wading forward through the back-and-forth discussion. Ultimately, you aren’t looking for the right answer so much as the answer that works best at the time for the people involved.
6. Prepare for Financial Conversations
Money is such an influential part of life, yet it’s one that many parents—especially from older generations—are reluctant to share with their children. Yet financial conversations are usually an inevitable aspect of communications with elderly loved ones. Part of the problem is that the best time for people to get their finances in order is when they’re still active and independent as opposed to waiting until they're less sharp than they used to be. When bringing up finances with your aging parent, stress that you want to understand the situation so you can help them protect their assets and plan for the years ahead. If they don’t want to have that money discussion with you, suggest they meet with a reputable financial planner.
7. Communicating with Your Siblings
If you have siblings, it’s helpful to be on the same page as them in terms of caring for your aging parents. First of all, doing so enables you to be a strong support system for one another. Additionally, it helps to confront any unintentional resentment or bitterness that may result from one sibling taking on the bulk of caring for your aging parents because they live closest or are in the best financial position to do so. At the end of the day, everyone is on the same team, which means also having those difficult conversations with one another. This situation is one in which a third party, such as a clinical social worker or a geriatric care manager, can help make a plan to keep everyone informed.
8. Address Power of Attorney
Giving up control and independence is difficult, messy work. Professionals advise that it is often best to bring up conversations about financial and medical power of attorney designations when your parent is still healthy and independent. Just as you designate someone to care for your young children if you become incapacitated, your parent needs to designate someone to handle their affairs if or when it becomes necessary. This helps mitigate confusion and potential conflict down the road.
9. Pick the Right Environment
Remember when your parents used to tell you “there’s a time and a place”? Now is a good time to put that adage to use. When it comes to having difficult conversations with aging parents, choosing the right time and setting can go a long way. If possible, have these conversations face to face in a private, comfortable area without competing noise or distractions. Include a cup of coffee or cocktail or some snacks. Face your parent so you can both read one another’s facial expressions, and even lips if necessary. If you’re not the only other person in the conversation, make sure your parent is in the middle, not the outskirts of the seating arrangement or the end of the table where they are more likely to feel isolated or like they’re receiving a lecture.
10. Pick Your Battles
This is another tip that applies to any type of relationship, but it is especially applicable to dealing with elderly parents. Seniors often face a growing list of challenges as they age, from mobility limitations and decreased stamina to loneliness and memory problems. Don’t try to tackle every problem at once. Prioritize these issues in order of importance and address them one at a time to prevent making your parent feel frustrated, embarrassed, or defeated. It’s also better for your emotional well being if you can both celebrate small victories together and then move on to the next challenge.
Discussing Retirement Community Options
Even though aging is a natural process experienced by nearly all humankind, it can be tough for both your loved one and you as the caregiver. Make sure love and compassion are at the forefront and stay fixed on the idea that both of you are striving for the best solution. One topic that often comes up with older adults is moving to a senior living community. While this may be a tough conversation for some, share with your parents the benefits of communities such as Village Green Retirement Campus. Not only do we provide safe, comfortable accommodations, but residents also have access to a range of amenities and services to enhance their quality of life.