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Talking to Your Aging Parents

Posted on February 4, 2012 at 1:10 PM
   Many of us are facing the similar issue of getting our aging parent(s) to acknowledge that they need some help in their home.  More often than not it’s a frustrating “locking of horns” as we try to persuade our parent that it is no longer safe or feasible for them to live without assistance, whether it’s help with cleaning and cooking, bill paying, driving, or any of the normal activities of daily living.  
 
   The difficulty starts in even knowing how to approach the subject, let alone meeting all their ready objections.  Denial and control are the key elements here, so the objections are multiple and range from “I’m don’t need any help” to “I don’t want to spend the money.”  I’ve had seniors who have been hospitalized for falling, tell me that they know for certain they will not fall again and therefore do not need non-slip flooring or grab bars.  They simply will be more careful.  
 
   Recently I spoke with a daughter, who lives in California, about installing some additional safety aides for her father, a 99 yr old living in Florida.  Her dad had been hospitalized three or four times in the past year for falling and yet refused to use a walker or allow grab bars to be installed in his home. As she explained to me, “If there was nothing to help him, that’s one thing.  But I’m starting to resent having to drop everything to jump on a plane and fly cross country to the hospital when there are options that would help prevent his falls.”  
   
   My sister, brother, and I have had numerous conversations about the best way to broach the topic with our own parents.  We’ve debated whether, out of respect we should only gently press an issue or, out of concern we should push forward to do what needs to be done.  I’ve had similar discussions with the adult kids of my clients.  At some point or another, everyone struggles with how long to beat around the bush before taking control and forcing a solution.  
  
   I’ve spoken to case managers, clinical social workers, psychologists and gerontologists for some expert guidance in this matter.  Their compounded wisdom suggests we consider the following when trying to help our aging parents:

First, don’t barge in and dictate that which you think needs to be done.  Find a quiet time to talk with your parent and explain why you are concerned. Encourage their response, stay open minded, and listen carefully.  

Make the conversation positive and emphasize that if they are proactive and act before there is a crisis, they stand a better chance of retaining control and  independence.

Find out how you can help them by understanding what options they might be considering and what their objectives are.

Do not push them to accept your assessment but rather give them sufficient time to form their own  conclusions.  

Be prepared to prioritize and negotiate the changes you believe need to be made.

Use trusted advisers or other family members for support.  Sometimes it just takes the right person or personality to allow for a dialogue without emotionality or defensiveness. 

Don’t just state the problem – help them find solutions.  Do some research in advance so that you know what resources and agencies are available in their community.   Obtain contact information, brochures, financial costs, etc. so that your conversation with your parents can be realistic.

   Most often there’s more than one way to handle any given situation.  Your parents may be far more ready to listen if you can present a variety of choices to them, allowing them to make the decision for their own well being.



Susan Luxenberg
President
HomeSmart LLC


 
 
 

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