Talking to a Loved One About Elder Care

You’ve seen the signs. The few bruises from falls that never used to take place. Memory lapses for appointments. Failing to take care of oneself to usual standards. These, and more, are all signs that an elder may be in need of extra care and families should start the conversation about how that will happen.  Although some elders are happy to sit down and talk about getting some extra help, many are resistant as they have lived most of their lives quite independently and the idea of that slipping away can be anxiety-producing or even downright terrifying.

As scary as it can be for our elders, it also leaves loved ones feeling helpless about how to proceed.  If someone is fighting you on something you know will help them, how can you make them see reason?  Here are some things to remember if you are faced with a loved one who is resistant to the discussion of elder care.

Make Sure Everyone is on the Same Page

If there is more than just you who has to help make the transition and/or decisions, make sure everyone involved is in agreement with any plan. It does no good if one person is openly (or secretly) disagreeing with the plans being made as this can mean the elder questions what is happening, sometimes even after agreeing to the proposed changes.  Some children struggle when a parent needs care. It’s completely okay to have fears around seeing changes in someone we love, but we cannot allow that to impede doing what is best for everyone. That is why these fears and discussions need to happen before the conversation with the elder in question so that what might seem like a minor disagreement doesn’t snowball into something bigger.

Listen

It is an unfortunate human habit to be so focused on the problem at hand that we often forget there are other people whose voices need to be heard. For example, when talking to a loved parent about moving to assisted care and all you get is a trip down memory lane, it can be easy to ignore and press forward with what needs to be done, but this ignores the parent’s attempt to communicate. We may see an attempt to avoid when really this is the only way the elder knows how to express the fear that accompanies the changes that are going to take place.  Most of our elders won’t be direct about their feelings and it’s our job to figure out what they are trying to say. Taking the time to sit down with your loved one and hear them out is essential to helping them feel comfortable with the transition to a new type of living arrangement, whatever it may end up being.

Don’t Make Ultimatums

When we approach people with ultimatums, they shut down. No one likes to be told what they have to do and when you’re discussing something as important as elder care it’s no different. Experts often recommend framing things about your concerns, not their inabilities, as this allows them to view it as doing something to help you instead of you forcing them. When they feel they can help you, they are more likely to be open to suggestions regarding change.

Discuss All Options

When we think of “elder care”, most people immediately jump to understaffed nursing homes, but that is inaccurate. Options can range from having some help on a part-time basis in the house to semi-independent living to fully assisted living and discussing all options can make things less scary. Lots of people start out with one type of care and then build up as necessary. This gives everyone time to adjust and figure out exactly what is needed for a given individual.

Make Sure the Elder has a Say

Think about how little you would like to be told exactly what to wear every single day. Now magnify that by a thousand.  When dealing with elder care the discussion revolves around changing a person’s entire life.  Allowing the ones we love to have a say in what happens to them can give them a feeling of control that is often missing, especially if they are already showing signs of dementia. These changes are scary and any way we can help our loved ones feel in control is positive. You may not get what you think is best, but finding a solution that works for everyone is better than no solution at all.

Nothing is Forever

Trying things on a temporary basis is often enough for the first step. When people feel they have the option of backing out or changing course, it provides them with that much-needed sense of control (see above).  Typically a temporary trial is enough for the individual to see positive change, but if they don’t, this should be acknowledged and a new solution discussed. Sometimes what we think will work won’t, so we need to be prepared to make changes as needed.

Have a Personal Outlet

What is often overlooked in the literature on elder care is how to ensure the people who are helping have an appropriate outlet for their experiences. There is a lot of strain in this transition and often that strain is taken out on the very people we’re trying to help. Having a person you can go to that allows you to vent your feelings can make the difference between a successful shift in care to one that is riddled with anger and resentment on all sides.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is your relationship with your loved one. As pressured as we feel to make changes immediately and in a way that we think is best, if we can step back and try to take the perspective of our loved ones, we can see how a slower pace that provides them with choices and control can make the process easier for everyone.


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