Have you noticed a parent, grandparent, sibling or family friend struggling within their home? Have you noticed that they are struggling to keep up the home and managing their personal care or grooming? Do they struggle tackling stairs, cooking healthy meals or manage yard work? Or are they struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation? If so, most likely you will want to have a discussion of your concerns. However, talking with your loved one about aging and lifestyle changes can be a delicate conversation that requires understanding and patience.
Here are few suggestions to initiate the conversation.
1. Do your Homework
Gather facts first. Educate yourself by visiting senior communities. Ask questions when visiting such communities. Keep organized notes with your thoughts and suggestions that you have received. The more knowledge you have, the better you will be to answer questions that your loved one may have. The more knowledge your loved one has, the easier it will be for them to have input and to look at the situation in a positive manner.
2. Know your Audience
It is always a good idea to know how receptive someone may or may not be to your concerns. There are those who will appreciate a direct approach. They are open to hear what you have to say and welcome your interest. Others may not be so forthcoming. These individuals will often deflect by changing the conversation. (If you have a loved one that is not willing to have a discussion with you, it might be best to ask someone else to speak with them. Consider enlisting the help from a physician, another family member or minister.)
3. Use Caution
Before starting a serious conversation, you will want to know if he or she is open to the idea or not. Begin with a phone call or a visit where you can first discuss non-threatening topics. Saying something like, “How’s the house these days? It must be hard keeping house with so many rooms.” If your loved one shows interest in your concern, follow up with something like, “Yes, I can see how this would be hard. Is there anything I can do?”
Even if your loved one sounds receptive to further discussion, it is best not to push any other agendas at this time.
4. In a Perfect World….
The best time to have a talk is when your loved one brings up the topic themselves. However most likely it will fall on your shoulders and other family members to take that first step. Look for a time when everyone is relaxed. If you feel like a direct approach would be the most welcome, start with something like, “I see that you are having trouble managing the steps into the house. Have you noticed this too?” Then listen and listen some more.
5. Forging Ahead
If at any time your loved one mentions the conversation that you have had with them, it is a perfect time to reexamine the subject. If he or she offers something encouraging, substantiate the comment by saying something like, “Yes, I think you would be happy living there. How about we talk some more on how to make this happen.”
If on the other hand they mention the conversation and are making argumentative comments, don’t react. Take this as a sign that he or she is at least thinking about their current situation. That is a small step in the right direction.
6. Validate, Validate, Validate
Anytime someone is faced with a change, it can be very overwhelming. Be a good listener. Let them talk, find out what fears they have. Could it be that the thought of moving, is too much? If so, reassure them that you will be there to help out. Could it be that the thought of giving up their house, makes them depressed? If so, try to remind them that their favorite pieces of furniture, mementos and anything else they desire will go along with them. Focus on what they are gaining (safety, peace of mind, social connections and being able to make choices) and not on what they think that they might be losing.
7. Everything in Moderation
If your parent, grandparent, sibling or family friend are not ready to make any changes, be patient. Sometimes all you are able to do is to wait for opportunities to continue the conversation. This topic may have to be tabled for a spell. In the interim, try to remain calm and supportive, even if you are discouraged or concerned. When you remain calm and supportive, your loved one knows that you only have their best interests at heart.