We call them "uncomfortable conversations" for a reason. Usually, the reason they are uncomfortable is because we want or need a particular outcome, and we are prepared to drag the other person to the same conclusion. If you are preparing for an uncomfortable conversation about senior living options with your aging parent, you want to have the space, time, and self-awareness to resist telling them what (you think) they need to do. Entering the conversation already attached to an outcome you need them to accept is ultimately a non-starter.
When we enter a conversation with kindness and compassion, we can explore options rather than convince someone to accept an outcome we’ve already chosen. It is difficult to enter a conversation about senior living options with love and understanding while simultaneously managing a crisis or medical emergency. Set yourself up for a successful conversation by choosing your timing wisely and by being aware of your desired outcome yet remaining open to where the conversation takes you.
You are a capable adult and you've. got. this. and perhaps you will want to consider these techniques before diving into the unknown. From changing your head space to changing the conversation to how your aging parents can help you, here are a few tips on how to start a conversation about the often challenging matters of aging.
3 Tips for Tough Conversations
1. Take time to get your thoughts together.
2. Let go of guilt and don’t get tripped up in promises.
3. Flip the script.
1. Lead the conversation with confidence.
Aging is a scary situation. The body doesn’t move like it used to, the mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, and one fall could be the downhill slide to whoknowswhere. While an aging parent feels like they are slowly losing control of themselves and their surroundings, it is comforting to know that someone has the energy and ability to handle challenges. That someone is you.
Before introducing a conversation about helpful services within the home or a move to senior living, take a few minutes to focus on yourself. Your breath. Your calmness. Your preparation. Be prepared to explore and lead the conversation with confidence. This can set a comforting tone for a parent who is feeling insecure and a bit adrift in their own circumstances.
Mentally review the information you have gathered. If you are going to recommend home services, be prepared to answer specific questions about the service provider and how their services would make an impact. If you are introducing a move to senior living, take the time to tour a few options near you and wrap your head around what they look like, feel like, cost, and the amenities that may be important to your parent.
Uncomfortable Conversations: Pro-tip #1
Aging. Costs. Money. The quickest way to shut down a conversation is with sticker shock regarding the prices of homecare or senior living. No matter their economic status, a senior hears the price tag and says, “I can’t afford that.” Be prepared to handle financial questions with facts. “It doesn’t matter what it costs” or “You can afford it” aren’t facts, they are conclusions you have made for your parents. “You have the money and here’s how we will pay for it” is a confident answer that shows you have already thought it through.
Speak from a place of knowledge. One “I don’t know” will undermine confidence and create insecurity in the plan. If you don’t know the answer, how are they supposed to be sure this is a good idea? That’s not to say you will know the answer to every question but be prepared to redirect them back to a point of confidence and make note of the question that gave you pause.
2. Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
“But I promised my dad I would never put him in a home.” This is a heartbreaking statement from any son or daughter, sitting with guilt in the sales office of the nearest assisted living facility. Self-imposed guilt that didn’t consider an unknown future would make that an improbable promise to keep. When we make promises to our aging parents, we imply we have the power to keep them and that is just not always true.
“I want to stay at home until they take me out feet first.” Nearly 90% of seniors want to stay in their current home as they get older. While staying at home may be the most popular choice, most haven’t thought about what it takes to make that happen. Staying at home isn’t only the most expensive option, it takes a lot of coordination to keep services in place consistently.
Uncomfortable Conversations: Pro-tip #2
If your aging parent insists on staying at home, hire a Case Manager for a couple of hours to consult. They can give valuable information on what an aging plan would look like and the cost of services needed. As the adult child and primary caregiver, you most likely don’t have the time needed to research this kind of plan. A case manager creates and executes this type of care plan every day. With their finger on the pulse of local resources and current costs, the expense of a couple of hours of their time is a bargain.
The case manager can hit the conversational pain points that you would prefer to avoid. Such as whether or not this is a realistic plan given the specific needs of your aging parent. It is helpful to approach the conversation with the understanding that while your situation is personal to you, it is not unique. An experienced and knowledgeable case manager has helped many others through similar circumstances and has a good sense of whether or not staying at home could be successful.
Services to Help Stay Home Safely
Home health care
Private duty care
Once you and your parents have had time to consider the information, schedule another conversation or family meeting. It’s never too early to start talking about a plan. If the plan is to stay at home, start preparing before a crisis to allow yourself the luxury of options.
3. Change the story and make it about you.
Most parents don’t want to be a burden to their children. They want to make the lives of their kids better – even when their adult children are seniors themselves! Very few adult children are prepared to take care of an aging parent and there is no shame in reaching out for help.
Rather than making the conversation about a place for mom and dad to go for additional care, make it about you. Your peace of mind. Your unrelenting schedule and struggles to keep up. Don't make it about what they can't do. No aging individual likes to hear about their deficits and almost every parent finds joy in helping their children – at any age.
Uncomfortable Conversations: Pro-tip #3
Open a conversation about how your concern for your aging parents affects you. Whether you live in the same town or are caregiving from another state, your concern for your parents’ well-being distracts you at work and keeps you from being present with your spouse and children (and grandchildren). It isn’t about what’s “wrong” with your parents, be real about how it is affecting you. Often, the protective parental nature doesn’t lie far below the surface and will emerge, overpowering their fear of change and accepting help.
There are few seniors who a) acknowledge they need help and b) want to hear about all the things they can no longer do themselves. A senior individual is painfully aware of their needs and fiercely determined to stay independent for as long as possible. Respect. When we approach the conversation with a list of all the tasks they can no longer do, it triggers their automatic “no” response. They aren’t really fighting you – they are fighting time. And change. And the conversation will continue in a frustrating cycle of “Here’s why you should accept help” and “No I won’t.”
Putting Off Uncomfortable Conversations Doesn't Help
Uncomfortable conversations don’t become easier the longer we put them off. Enter the conversation in a confident and compassionate headspace, avoid promises, and focus on how your life would be improved just knowing they are safe. Be prepared for pushback and stay open to their thoughts and feelings. Look for compromise when possible and don’t be afraid to put a pin in the conversation and revisit another time.
These suggestions may not work for you. But then again – they might. If you want to find a problem for every solution, problems are all you will ever have so just give a conversation a try. The answer doesn’t lie in one attempt, but in many so prepare your thoughts and remember it is never too early to start the conversation.
Even if it is Hard, Get to the Plan
There are a lot of emotions that can come to the surface. So much history between you and your aging parents. Whether your relationship was challenging or idyllic, as the adult child, it can be a trippy role reversal of sorts. Be patient with them and with yourself. Get advice. Get help. But, ultimately, get to the conclusion that results in a plan.