How to talk to ageing parents about the future

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You love your parents and you want the very best for them, but sometimes life can make things really tough. As they get older, their needs can gradually or instantly (in the case of an accident) change and the weight of your responsibility increases.

This often happens when you’re also trying to raise your own family and completely lack the bandwidth to make sure your mum and/or dad are getting the care and attention they need, which leaves you feeling incredibly guilty and more exhausted than you thought possible. Sound familiar?

To help you, here are seven tips to help you break the ice and get your parents talking and listening.

  1. Choose your time and place carefully, because conversations about ageing are best had in a relaxed, quiet setting where you and your parent/s can talk without interruption. They may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about their changing needs and won’t want to have a serious discussion in front of other family members, so avoid broaching the subject when your children, siblings or others are around. Instead, try to casually arrange a time for a quiet cup of tea at their home or an outing to a nearby park, where you can calmly sit and reflect on the present and the future together. Depending on your parents’ prior response to talking about ageing, it may be beneficial for this conversation to occur without notice. Forewarning could put them in a defensive position that’s counterproductive to the open and honest dialogue you’re trying to create.
  2. Use another person’s experience as a conversation starter. For example, talk about “when Auntie Alice fell ill and the doctor spoke to cousin Sarah about treatment options”, then explain how that experience made you realise how important it is to have that conversation with your parents ahead of time.
  3. Ask them to describe ‘successful ageing’. It’s very possible that your view of ‘successful ageing’ and theirs are worlds apart. You might think that a retirement village with round-the-clock care is the ideal scenario, when in fact they want to stay in their home and local community for as long as they can. Also ask them how they ideally see themselves living in the short term, the longer term and in the event of an accident. As they share this with you, make sure you really listen. If you don’t understand their point of view, or don’t agree, try to probe more deeply by asking open-ended questions.
  4. Avoid negative language as much as possible when talking to ageing parents about changes. Maintaining a neutral position while they’re expressing their views is key to you understanding their perspective and what’s important to them. Only then can you work together to make their ideal scenario (or an adaptation of it) come about.
  5. Acknowledge their feelings about future change. Change is hard and often frightening, especially for older people, which is why it’s absolutely paramount you let your parents know that their opinions and feelings are valued. There’s nothing worse than feeling out of control of your own life. Even if they are unable to make all the decisions for themselves, it’s important they feel consulted.
  6. Be honest about how their vision for the future may impact you and your family. They might think moving into your already jam-packed house is a great plan, but if that’s not what’s best for your family, you need to be honest and work out a Plan B.
  7. Make a list of things they need help with now and in the longer term. If you’re aiming for just one thing out of this conversation, it should be a greater understanding of their needs. You might already know this list, based on the degree of care you are already providing them, however needs can change over time. Make sure you discuss with them the help they believe they need now and what additional help they may require in the longer term. This could be anything from a few hours a week of garden maintenance to daily in-home health care and everything in between. Once you’ve got this list together, you can talk to home care service provider Good Friends about fulfilling and managing your parents’ care needs.