Your parents might have lived in their home for decades, so it’s understandable that they are not eager to move to a new place when they get older. Even if the house is getting difficult to maintain or doesn’t meet their needs, there are years of memories there. Change can be hard.
It’s good to talk with your parents while they are still healthy about what might be needed to remain living independently — often parents and loved ones find some peace of mind in discussing those issues when things are going well. If you wait until a crisis occurs, you will have to make decisions quickly and you might not know your loved one’s wishes.
Many adult children don’t know how to bring up the subject of independent living with their parents. Here are some tips for starting this difficult dialogue, keeping focused and dealing with resistance.
Beginning the conversation
Raise the issues indirectly
Mention a friend’s mother who recently hired in-home help, or an article that you read about programs at a nearby senior center. Example: “Is that something that you might be interested in learning more about?”
Find small ways to bridge the issue
Example: “I know you’re taking pills for arthritis, your heart and cholesterol. Would it help if you had one of those medication organizers you can buy in the drugstore?”
Share your own emotions
Example: “Dad, it’s hard for me to see you slowing down and I know you’ve always prided yourself on being independent. I imagine it’s difficult for you to ask for help, but what are some things that we can do?”
Set the right tone
Once the topic has been brought up, listen to how your parents feel about their current needs, concerns, worries and hopes for the future. Don’t guess or make assumptions about your parents’ preferences. Ask open-ended questions that get them to express their perceptions.
Use communication that states your concern and avoids criticism
Example: “I’m feeling concerned that you may fall coming down the stairs. I could put a 100-watt bulb at the bottom of the stairs and install a handrail.” Don't say: "Going upstairs in your condition is ridiculous. You’re sure to fall.”
Avoid role reversal
Helping out doesn’t mean you are “parenting” your parents. The most productive interactions come when parents and adult children are equal in the relationship.
Focus on these key issues
While each situation is unique, here are some common issues that can affect an older person’s ability to remain independent that you may want to discuss as your parents’ situation changes.
Where they live
Ask: Is your home still appropriate for your needs?
Are there any safety hazards in the house that could be removed?
Have you thought about eventually living somewhere else?
Their everyday activities
Ask: Do you need help with household chores?
Does impaired vision interfere with your cooking?
Can you hear a knock at the door or the telephone ring?
How they get around
Ask: Do you feel comfortable driving?
Would you like me to take you to your doctor appointments?
Are there vans or discounted senior taxi services you could use for shopping or to get to religious services?
Ask: Are your prescriptions current?
Have you been to your doctor lately? What did he or she say about your health?
Ask: What are your current bills like and can you cover everything you need?
Have you thought about how you might need money in the future to help pay for assistance with everyday activities you might not be able to do yourself?
Would it be useful to consult with a financial planner?
How they pay for health care
Ask: What kind of health insurance do you have? Has it paid your health care bills so far? Do you have any questions about Medicare or Medicaid?
Dealing with resistance
Your parents may not want to talk about these issues. Some resistance is normal.
- Respect your parents’ feelings when they make it clear they want to avoid a subject. Try again later using another approach.
- Consider pushing the issue if your parents’ health or safety is at risk. While your parents have a right to be in charge of their own lives, some crisis situations — such as health care expenses depleting a bank account — may call for you to intervene. If so, act firmly but with compassion.
- Involve other family members or friends. You may want to hold a family meeting where everyone can discuss concerns and develop a plan to help.
- Find out about community resources to help your parents remain independent, such as transportation or home health care, and share the options with them.
- Be prepared to let your parents make their own life choices, even if you don’t agree with them. You should set your own limits as to how involved you can be. If the living situation is unsafe, you may need to bring in a third party to intervene.
Also of interest: Balancing work and caregiving.
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