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Independent Living: Starting a Dialogue

Article Highlights

  • Start the dialogue early
  • Raise the issue indirectly
  • Keep it positive

Expect Resistance
Your loved one may not want to talk about these issues. They may fend you off with reassuring statements or tell you to mind your own business. Respect their feelings when they make it clear that they want to avoid a topic. Plan a different approach later.

If your loved one’s health or safety is at risk, however, you should intervene as soon as possible. You also may need to take immediate action if their health care expenses are depleting their bank accounts or if they’re avoiding the need for important legal documents. Act firmly but with compassion. Say: "Dad, we can’t ignore this any longer. We have to deal with it."

It might help to involve other family members or other individuals your loved one respects and trusts. Gather together to discuss concerns and to develop a specific, proactive plan.

Find out about community services that preserve independence, such as transportation programs and home health care. Then, if it’s clear that your loved one needs assistance, you’ll be ready to share these options.

Keep It Positive
In even the closest families, communicating with aging adults about their needs often requires focus and determination. Keep conversations positive and productive by stating your concerns in the "I" form: A sentence that begins with "I feel," "I need" or "I’m concerned" is less threatening than a "you" statement. For example, say: "I’m concerned that you may fall on the stairs. I could put a 100-watt bulb at the bottom of the stairs and install a handrail. That would make them safer for everyone." Don’t say: "Going upstairs in your condition is ridiculous. You’re sure to fall."

Don’t "parent" your loved one. And be prepared to let them make their own life choices, even if you don’t agree with them. They have a right to make decisions (as long as they are not cognitively impaired). Growing older does not diminish that right. Even when they make what you consider an unwise choice, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are no longer capable of independence. In fact, you should set limits on your involvement so that their decisions don’t run your life.

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