Aging can bring a number of changes to your health, but finding the best way to talk about them can be tough for families. As an adult child, how should you talk to senior parents about medication, driving or living alone without hurting feelings or relationships?
WellTuned talked to Dr. Catherine Payne, a BlueCross medical director and expert on aging, about how to approach these challenging conversations.
“Over the course of our lives, we’re accustomed to our parents giving usadvice, so talking to them about their health can be difficult,” says Dr. Payne. “However, it’s an important discussion to have for their own happiness, well-being, and safety. With a little time and consideration, you can also learn how to support them during this transitional period without overstepping.”
Here are 7 tips for productive conversations.
1. Start from a place of empathy
Before you start a conversation, take some time to think about how you might feel when you’re in your parents’ shoes. As we age, loss can become a larger presence our lives, whether it’s a loss of health, independence or people we love. Consider those issues, and remember that older generations may not feel as comfortable talking about their struggles and feelings as you do.
When the time comes to have a discussion, remember two things:
- You and your parent may have different goals.
Adult children often want to solve a problem and move on while parents may be more concerned with maintaining a sense of control, dignity, authority or independence. Understand that perspective and practice patience.
- Your parents want respect.
Your parents have made sacrifices and had many life experiences that merit respect, and it’s important they feel that from you, especially if they’re facing mental or physical decline or emotional hardships. Reassure them that you’ll support and love them no matter what, and that you’ll work through things together.
2. Do your research
Identify your concerns and educate yourself on the issues.
- In Tennessee, the Commission on Aging & Disability is a good place to start. They offer advice for issues ranging from brain health to chronic diseases to fall prevention.
- The Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee offers an online Guide for Families & Caregivers.
- If you’re looking for a book on the topic, try How to Say It to Seniors.
3. Know when it’s time to start the conversation
In general, experts suggest the 40-70 rule: If you’re around age 40 and your parents are around age 70, it’s time to start talking.
4. Set a time to talk
If you wait for the right moment to bring up your concerns, it may never present itself. You could end up starting a conversation during a tense moment or not having the answers you need when a crisis occurs.
Ask your parent to a meal one-on-one, or use an activity you already do together as an opportunity to talk. Golf, walking, knitting and cooking are all good choices because they remove the pressure of a serious, sit-down talk but still allow you to have a real discussion.
5. Start by asking your parents how they feel
Tell your parent about your concerns, ask how they feel and then listen. Once they’ve responded, suggest that you make a plan together, and consider connecting with their primary care provider if they’re open to that. Don’t tell your parents what to do or dictate how things have to happen. If you’re having difficulty finding the right words, explore conversation starters here.
If you don’t have specific concerns, simply say you read an article that caused you to wonder what their perspectives are on housing, health, finances, insurance, end-of-life issues and so on. Let the conversation evolve from there.
6. Be prepared to compromise
If you disagree on an issue, resist the urge to tell your parent what to do or how things should be. If your parents are of sound mind, they’re not in crisis, and they’re not putting anyone else at risk of being hurt, their wishes should prevail, even though it’s difficult to accept. Know that it may take several conversations over time before things start to change.
7. Address specific challenges that they may have.
Here are some resources:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Age-related illness
- Elder abuse
- Fall prevention
- Lonelinessand living alone
- Health care preferences
- Medication management
- Mental health
- Retirement communities
For more information on senior health in Tennessee, click here.