Having the Talk
A Challenging First Step
By Joe Gilmore, Landmark Senior Living
Talking about long-term care needs with an elderly parent or other loved one can be a difficult thing. You may not know exactly how to approach it without coming off as rude or disingenuous. However, when it comes to a loved one’s health, it is important to cast aside how you feel to ensure that they can live safely and happily later in life. It is especially important to have this conversation before a problem occurs, not after.
An American Assoc. of Retired Persons survey found that two-thirds of adult children have never had this conversation. This is most likely due to the fact that a lot of adult children don’t know how to engage in this type of talk, or how to begin it. To begin, you have to decide who is going to be there during the talk and what the discussion is going to center around.
Keeping your loved one or parent safe later in their life is a priority, and talking to them about living situations, such as assisted living or even enlisting the help of a caregiver, is the first step. This is especially true if your parent or loved one has experienced a traumatic event in the recent past, such as a fall or the loss of a spouse.
Tips for the Talk
• Decide how you are going to do it and who’s going to be there. Sometimes a one-on-one talk is best; however, if you need someone to back up your points or provide another point of view, it may be a good idea to get other family members involved.
• Go over which talking points you will speak on before approaching your loved one, and set up a time and place to talk.
• Express each idea as an opinion of yours rather than a need for them. For example, choosing phrases like “I think” or “I need” rather than “you should” or “you need” are good ways to avoid conflict.
• Remind your loved one that everyone is there because they care and want to help keep them safe.
• Stay calm. Don’t raise your voice, speak over your loved one, or encourage any hostility during this discussion, as it will only make the situation worse.
• If your loved one immediately dismisses the idea of leaving their home, it may be best to drop the issue for the moment and bring it back up at another time.
The first step in beginning the talk is setting up how you are going to do it and who’s going to be there. Sometimes it is best for the talk to be a one-on-one; however, if you need someone to back up your points or provide another point of view, it may be a good idea to get other family members or loved ones involved. Every family is different, and it may be a good idea to disregard some family members when deciding who is invited to speak.
It is best to go over which talking points that you will speak on before approaching your parent or loved one. Meeting beforehand to talk about these things is recommended. Create a plan on how you wish to talk about this.
Understanding Your Loves Ones’ Goals for the Future
Your conversation about the future doesn’t have to focus only on a caregiving plan. You may also consider talking generally with your loved ones about what is important to them as they grow older. This checklist can be used as a starting point to better understand their priorities. Start by asking then to check all those that apply and then spend some time talking about each one in a little more detail:
__ To remain as independent as possible for as long as possible
__ To remain healthy and active
__ To remain in my home as long as possible
__ To focus on a hobby
__ To work for as long as possible
__ To become involved in the community
__ To remain as financially independent as possible
__ To take classes
__ To create a safety net in the event of an emergency or crisis situation
__ To start my own business
__ To buy a second home
__ To move closer to my family
__ To relocate to a smaller home
__ To retire in a different place
__ To travel
__ To be able to help my children and grandchildren
After going over the points you will make, the first thing you’ll want to do is set up a time and place to talk with your parent or loved one. This may require the use of some type of web communications like Skype or just over the phone if someone can’t be there or lives in a different area.
Depending on how you are hoping to help your parent, there are a few ways to go about this. For example, if you are just hoping to enlist the help of a caregiver, or become the caregiver yourself, it will take less convincing than, say, getting them to agree to be admitted to an assisted-living or residential care facility.
When speaking with a parent or a loved one about what you feel they should do, it is best to phrase it in a way that expresses that it is an opinion of yours rather than a need for them. For example, choosing phrases like “I think” or “I need” rather than “you should” or “you need” are good ways to avoid conflict.
Be sure to remind your parent or loved one that everyone is there because they care and want to help keep them safe. It may even be beneficial to bring up times when your parent may have had their health put at risk — maybe a fall or another incident.
This is also true for other major events like the loss of a spouse. There is evidence that the social isolation that stems from living alone and independently can lead to problems like loneliness and depression.
It is also important not to raise your voice or encourage any hostility during this discussion, as it will only make the situation worse. You should also be aware of when your parent is trying to talk. Do not try to speak over them, as it will likely lead to an argument. Keep your cool and remain calm during the discussion, even if others don’t.
Some parents will dismiss the idea of moving to an assisted-living facility immediately or adamantly. If this is the case, it may be best to drop the issue for the moment and bring it back up at another time down the road.
At the end of the meeting, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the issues, concerns, and considerations presented.