How to have the conversation with parents about how they want to live their lives as they grow older.
You love your parents and you want the very best for them. But sometimes life can make things really tough.
As your parents get older, their needs can gradually or instantly change (in the case of an accident) and your responsibilities increase. This often happens at the exact time when you’re trying to raise your own family and completely lack the capacity to make sure they’re getting the care and attention they need. This leaves you feeling incredibly stressed, unhappy and more exhausted than you thought possible. Sound familiar?
Well the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the earlier you begin talking to your parents about their future, the better you can help them prepare for it. When things do change, this means you’ve got a plan and the appropriate service in place to make it happen.
To help you, here’s 5 tips to help you break the ice and get Mum or Dad talking – and listening…
1. Choose your time and place carefully
Conversations about ageing are best had in a relaxed, quiet setting where you and your parent/s can talk uninterrupted about how they’re managing. It’s important to understand that they may feel uncomfortable talking about their changing needs and may not wish to do so in front of other family members.
It's best to 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, as forewarning can automatically put them in a defensive position that is counterproductive to the open and honest dialogue you’re trying to create.
2. Use a friend or family member’s experience as a conversation starter
One of the best ways to address age-related issues with your parents is to begin by referencing someone else’s experience. Talk about “when Aunty Carol 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.
Often the key to getting them to open up is to position the conversation like the one you need to have for your own peace of mind. After all, your parents have spent their lives protecting you and trying to help you solve problems…so their natural inclination if you voice this concern will be to assist you by addressing it.
3. Ask them to describe what ‘successful ageing’ looks like to them
It is 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 as long as they can. It’s therefore important that you ask them how they ideally see themselves living in both 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. Avoid negative language here as much as possible as maintaining a neutral position while they are expressing their views is key to you understanding their perspective and what is important to them. Only then can you both work together to make that – or an adaptation of it – happen by engaging the right aged care partners to suit both their emotional, physical and financial needs and yours.
4. Acknowledge the importance of their feelings about the next stage
Change is hard and often frightening, especially for the elderly which is why it is absolutely paramount that you let your parents know that their opinions and feelings are valued. There is nothing worse than feeling out of control of your own life, and though in reality they may be unable to make all the decisions for themselves and their care, it’s important that they feel consulted.
At the same time however, for your own emotional wellbeing you need to be honest about how their vision for their future may impact you and your family and discuss what is realistic. They might think moving in to your already jam-packed house is a great plan but if that’s not what is best for your family then you need to be honest and agree on a Plan B.
5. 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 with your parents it should be a greater understanding of their needs. There’s every likelihood that you may know this already from the degree of care you are already providing them, however needs can change over time or even immediately so 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 so it’s important you discuss in detail what they need, when they’ll need it and how often. Once you’ve got this list together, you can talk to full-service home care provider, Arvida Good Friends about how we can manage your parents’ care needs for you so that you can focus on taking care of yourself and your own family.
Feeling overwhelmed caring for an ageing parent?
Arvida Good Friends is New Zealand’s first Successful Ageing Platform that gives families a trusted, easy way to manage their older parents’ care and keep them in the homes they love for longer. With our Help App you can request the help you need, keep track of what helpers are coming and when, and access reduced member rates for Helper services.