Five Strategies for Having Important Conversations with Older Adults

In my eldercare practice, I have found there are three major reasons to have important conversations with a parent:

Their well being

The quality of their life

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Their safety

They are difficult conversations because we are talking about difficult topics such as the need for homecare, giving up the car, moving into supportive living and end of life wishes, to name a few. What is the best way to start these conversations?  Here are five strategies to help make these conversations reach their desired goal:

1. Do it on a day that is good for both you and your parent. Skip a day when you’ve spent 3 hours in a doctor’s office with mom for her 15 minute appointment. Likewise, if you have just received an estimate for the repair of your roof, that too may not be the best day.

2. Be positive. Come from a place of problem solving. “I need your help about….” “I’ve been thinking about……..and I value your input.”  “I want to make sure I represent your wishes should you become ill. Can you share some of your thoughts with me.”

3. Use “I” statements not “You statements.” The latter may cause a parent to become defensive. Instead of “You are not taking your blood pressure medication, I keep finding the pills in the bottle”…try “Would it be okay if I called you in the morning to remind you to take your medication?”

4. Accept the conversation is part of a process. It may take more than one conversation to work out a plan or understand the wishes of your father.

5. Show appreciation and do self evaluation. Sometimes a difficult task. Thank your parent for having the conversation with you. “Mom, I feel a lot better knowing that you’re willing to try out a companion twice a week.” Also evaluate. Where did you lose your cool? What buttons did I push in mom and/or dad to have the conversation end abruptly?

These conversations are never easy.  But, with some preparation and keeping your expectations within reasonable limits, the results can be mutually beneficial.