Updated: Jul 12
Many of us are fortunate to have an older adult in our life - whether they are a parent, grandparent, spouse, other relative or a friend. Although we value the relationships and how these individuals have helped us throughout our lives and what we have learned from them, it is likely that we will be challenged when we step into the role of supporting them. We start to become concerned about how they are managing on a day-to-day basis and recognize the need to have some difficult conversations about driving, bringing help into the home, moving, or healthcare.
How do we raise these concerns in a manner that is respectful and non-confrontational?
None of us like to be told what to do. You can probably think of a time when you ignored advice from a family member, even if you knew they were right. Remember that an older adult has been making decisions their entire life and may see you as trying to take away their independence or not valuing their opinion. However these discussions are not about limiting their independence but instead are about safeguarding it and need to be framed in that manner.
Include the older adult in the conversation and decision-making process and listen to them. If they think you are imposing a decision upon them, they may oppose it. If they feel they made the decision, then they are more likely to follow-through. Listen to what they are saying, acknowledge their feelings and concerns, and ask questions, even if you think you know the answers.
Approach the situation from their point of view. You may have noticed scratches on the car or dangerous driving habits. Instead of pointing these out, talk about driving in general - traffic, parking, cost of gas, etc… Has your loved one complained about bad drivers on the road? Agree with them and offer solutions and choices that could help reduce the stress of driving.
Get people on the same page and involve others they trust, but don't make decisions without them. If you have siblings, talk with them first to ensure that all of you have the same message for when you talk to your parents. If your loved one raises a concern, suggest they talk with their doctor or clergy - someone whose opinions they value. If possible, talk with that person ahead of time so that they have a better understanding of the situation.
Phrase it as a trial period. Emphasize that whatever you are proposing can be temporary and they can change their mind later. If your mother mentioned that she is concerned about falling in the shower, suggest she get some help and see how it goes. If it does not work out, then she can always cancel the service.
Plan ahead and create the right atmosphere for the discussion. Make sure the time is convenient for them and does not interfere with their schedule so that you have their full attention. Limit distractions such as the television. Be patient and calm and speak clearly.
These are difficult conversations to have as they tend to be emotional for all involved. Remember to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and think about how you would react and then calmly and patiently have a discussion. If you need resources or support, visit Mellie.com to learn how we support family caregivers.