Have you ever found yourself seated across from an aging parent or relative, sharing a cup of tea or coffee, when the conversation takes an unexpected turn towards their health, finances or future plans? These discussions can sometimes be uncomfortable, yet they are an essential part of helping our elderly loved ones navigate the journey of aging gracefully.
My own experience with this reality came to light through my 92-year-old Uncle Bubba. He had lived independently for the past 11 years without any significant home safety or medical challenges until four months ago. He suffered a fall at home, unable to get up on his own, and remained on the floor for 12 hours. It was only when his daughter checked on him that he was discovered.
At the hospital, we received a sobering revelation: Had he stayed on the floor for just two more hours, his organs would likely have started to shut down. We count ourselves fortunate that he was found in time.
Discussing home safety with aging parents or relatives is a crucial conversation that prepares us for the unpredictable “what-ifs.” This dialogue requires an open mind and a willingness to listen to our loved one’s wishes while also considering the best solutions.
My uncle wasn’t open to personal emergency response systems (PERS) and was intent on remaining at home after his fall. Although he had family nearby to support him, they were unable to be with him around the clock, ensuring his safety. After talking it through, Uncle Bubba was moved into an assisted living facility nearby where his health and safety needs are met, and family can visit and get there quickly should something happen.
When I was in Baltimore recently, I visited my uncle and cousins, and I’m thrilled to see how he is thriving in his new environment after his required rehab stay from his fall.
Here are five essential tips for initiating and navigating conversations with aging parents and relatives:
- Meet them where they are. Start conversations about medical care, emergencies and home safety while they are in good health. When you start to see signs of distress or increased healthcare needs, initiate more conversations. Approach the conversation with empathy and respect for your loved one’s feelings and independence. Show that you value their opinions and preferences, even if they differ from your own.
- Choose the time and place. Start the conversation in a comfortable and quiet setting, free from distractions. Choose a time when both you and your parent are relaxed and have time to talk without feeling rushed.
- Use open-ended questions. Instead of asking yes-or-no questions, use open-ended ones that encourage discussion. For example, “How do you feel about your current living situation?” or “What are your thoughts on home safety?”
- Offer solutions and support. Once you’ve identified areas of concern, work together to find solutions. Offer your support in implementing changes, whether it’s making home modifications, exploring living options or coordinating healthcare appointments.
- Recognize it’s an ongoing process. Unfortunately, this is not a one-and-done conversation. You likely need to discuss several topics – healthcare, independent living, family caregiving duties, finances, legal documents, home safety and more. Be patient and willing to revisit the topics as needed, allowing your parent time to process information and make decisions at their own pace.
Engaging in conversations with aging parents or relatives may be challenging, but approaching them with love and empathy can foster meaningful connections. More importantly, these dialogues ensure that your loved one’s health and safety remain top priorities.
YOUR GIFT TRANSFORMS LIVES
Give to support seniors and family caregivers
As President and CEO, Tauhric Brown uses his strategic vision and experience in the elderly and disability service industry to expand CICOA services and collaborative partnerships to better meet the needs of the vulnerable populations we serve. Before joining CICOA, Brown served as the chief operating officer for Senior Services, Inc. in Kalamazoo, Mich. His career started in the U.S. Army, and then he became a successful owner/operator for a multi-carrier wireless retail company. Inspired by his family and upbringing, he made the switch to the nonprofit world to fulfill his dream of improving the lives of others.