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Health & Longevity

How to Talk to Elderly Parents About Aging in Place

Seniors who choose to age in place will eventually rely on their adult children for care and support. This can be a difficult transition, involving uncomfortable conversations between parent and child, especially where finances, healthcare, and end-of-life planning are concerned.

These are not conversations anyone wants to have with their parents. However, they are necessary conversations. If your parent can no longer take care of themselves or make positive decisions, it is your turn to help them, as they helped you through your early years. 

Why Do Your Parents Want to Age In Place?

Although some older people are happy to move to a care facility, an increasing number prefer to live in a familiar environment with the privacy and independence they enjoyed in their younger years. Almost 90% of seniors say they hope to stay in their homes for the rest of their lives.

Elder care professionals agree with this approach to aging. Aging in place has been shown to help seniors maintain their quality of life, fitness, and mental health for longer. Remaining in their homes and communities allows older people to maintain their social lives—a critical factor in continued mental health and cognitive wellbeing. 

When to Talk to Elderly Parents About Aging in Place Concerns

You should discuss problems before they begin to affect your parent’s well-being. For example, if you notice that they struggle to use the stairs in their home, consider talking to them about installing a stair lift. Don’t wait until their mobility declines to the point at which they can no longer go upstairs or, worse, until they have an accident. Be proactive. 

Depending on your parent’s personality, they may try to minimize the risk or hide the problem. After all, they haven’t fallen yet and may not see the need for expensive equipment. But starting the conversation early gives you time to work through the issues and put a plan in place. That first conversation is just the beginning of a process that may take some time. 

Communication Skills for Talking to Elderly Parents

Expect resistance when talking to your elderly parents about sensitive subjects. They may disagree with you or refuse to cooperate. They may minimize your concerns or even get angry with you. They may try to provoke an emotional response to change the subject.

An adverse reaction from a parent can be hurtful and hard to deal with, and you may feel yourself becoming angry or resentful too. But acting on these emotions is counter-productive. Keep your eye on the goal, which is to help your parent to live safely and comfortably in their own home. 

Let’s look at some skills for communicating with elderly parents that can help you have productive conversations. 

Empathy

Imagine you were in your parent’s position. Picture losing your financial independence, ability to drive, health, and mobility. How would you feel? It’s a frustrating, frightening time for older adults. Try to understand that their negative reaction isn’t meant to hurt your feeling or make life difficult for you. It’s an expression of anxiety, anger, and sadness at their situation. 

Active Listening

Active listening is a valuable communication skill for many scenarios, including during difficult conversations with aging parents. We often focus on making our case and giving advice, but that can be counterproductive and may result in conflict and raised tempers. 

Active listening is a more empathetic approach that focuses on listening, understanding, and communicating that understanding. 

  • Pay close attention to what your parent is saying. Fully concentrate on their words and what they mean. Don’t sit there waiting for your turn or thinking about what you’ll say next. Don’t interrupt. Just listen.
  • Show your parent that you’re truly listening. Use relaxed body language that signals you are open to what they are saying. Maintain eye contact. Nod, smile, and use other verbal and non-verbal signals.
  • Reflect what they have said back to them. Summarize their point until they agree that you have understood them. Try not to be judgmental.

This communication style is challenging for some, especially with family members. It takes patience and can be time-consuming. But it’s vital that your parent feels that you understand their concerns and that you are taking them seriously. If you give them time and patience, they will be more receptive to what you have to say. 

Collaborative Decision Making

Make decisions together. Older parents should be involved in making decisions about their home and care. There are a couple of useful techniques to make your parent part of the decision-making process:

  1. Ask for their opinion. For example, if you think it’s time for your parent to stop driving, ask what they think is a suitable timeframe for giving up their license, selling their car, arranging alternative transport, and so on.
  2. Present options, not ultimatums. Instead of making a plan and presenting it to your parent, give them options to choose from. Research alternatives and discuss the pros and cons of each while practicing active listening. For example, if your parent faces mobility difficulties, research equipment that could help, such as a home hospital bed, grab rails, a walk-in bath, and so on. Discuss the alternatives and let them decide which equipment is a priority.
  3. Don’t push too hard. Accept that you cannot force your parent to agree with you. Pushing too hard can permanently damage your relationship. Unless urgent medical intervention is required, consider these conversations a marathon, not a sprint.

5 Aging in Place Topics You Should Address As Soon As Possible

If your parent has chosen to age in place, it is helpful to understand the issues that will arise over the next few years. We’ll conclude this article by looking at the five most common challenges to face older adults. 

Finances

If your parent’s cognitive and physical health declines, you may need to manage their finances. It’s essential to be prepared before it becomes urgent. You do not want to be hunting for documents or searching for a lawyer during a crisis. Talk to your parent about:

  • Naming a durable power of attorney for finances.
  • Gaining access to financial records.
  • Sharing bank account numbers and details of other financial institutions.
  • Regular expenses, such as mortgage or insurance payments.

Health

As with finances, you may need to manage your parent’s healthcare arrangements if they are incapacitated. Consider discussing the following details:

  • Their end-of-life wishes and whether they have a living will.
  • The names and contact details of their primary physician and other healthcare professionals.
  • The medication they take and any treatment plans.

Home Safety

Most accidents involving older adults happen in the home. People must have a safe and comfortable environment when they choose to age in place. Unfortunately, most U.S. homes are not well-equipped for people with physical and cognitive challenges. 

We have written extensively about how to make a home safe for older people:

Transport

There are no hard and fast rules to say when older people should stop driving. However, children of aging parents should discretely monitor their driving ability for signs that it’s time to talk about giving up driving, including:

  • Health conditions that affect cognitive abilities, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or strokes.
  • Conditions that reduce physical capacity, including arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Reduced vision.
  • Dependence on medication that impairs driving ability.

Caregiving Arrangements

Does your parent need a caregiver? The answer may be yes if they need in-home treatment or struggle to maintain adequate hygiene, cleanliness, and personal care. A caregiver can carry out tasks ranging from shopping and light cleaning to bathing and round-the-clock care.

To learn more about arranging a professional caregiver or becoming a family caregiver for your elderly parent, read:

 

Aging in place can help your parents live a happy and healthy life for longer. But they will need your help. The resources in the post should help you talk to your parents about their needs, but if you have further concerns, don’t hesitate to consult an eldercare or healthcare professional.

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