Caring for aging parents is tough, and dealing with aging parents can be tougher. Expressing concerns about a senior’s wellbeing can be uncomfortable because you will play a different role. The senior may not be open to the idea that it’s time to give up driving, or that they need some help with things they used to do for themselves, or that they might need a companion caregiver.
But difficult conversations are part of life, and they can’t be avoided. The good news is that there are plenty of good resources available that leave both parties happy and better off. Here are some steps adapted from the negotiation text “Getting Past No” to get your aging parent to agree to changes that are in their best interests.
The first thing to do is make sure you have your own emotions under control. Having a run-away temper will hurt you in delicate conversations. So too is being easily hurt or insulted. A good first step is to do a little research into the topic you want to discuss so you’re armed with ‘facts’ and not ‘opinions.’ It’s also a good idea to prepare for the difficult conversation by having a practice conversation with another person to practice your thoughts. Anything you can do to deflate your emotions during the conversation will help you to focus and be present during the conversation.
Are your parents open to having a talk about a delicate subject? When dealing with aging parents, it’s important that you understand why they may be resistant. They may be put off of conversations about health and lifestyle because it challenges their sense of autonomy, or maybe they’re trapped by their pride. Actively trying to understand their point of view goes a long way towards reducing resistance and opening the door to discussing solutions. This can be as simple as “What I hear you saying is…” and attempting to articulate their position as best you can, and eliciting feedback for where you may be off the mark.
If you find yourself in the position where it seems you two are at odds with each other, you need to reframe the conversation. It doesn’t have to be ‘your way’ or ‘there way’, it can be the two of you working to find the best solution to the problem. If you’ve gotten this far, your parent will at least be willing to have the discussion and you can both present ideas.
Your parent may have some reservations. Maybe they think they won’t like having an in home caregiver, or feel like giving up their car means they’ll be losing their ability to socialize. You need to find out what those reservations are and address them. Bringing in a third party (say another senior in a similar situation, or a figure your parent respects like a pastor) may help here. You can also present the idea that you can try a new arrangement for two weeks before making anything permanent. Whatever it takes to open your parent up to the idea of trying something new!
You don’t have to strong-arm your aging parent, but you do want them to be aware of reality. If they’re becoming dangerous behind the wheel, then they could hurt someone like a child. If they’re on a medication that can make them drowsy, then they could forget a burning stove and cause a fire. Ask if they understand what the potential consequences are of these dangerous acts. If they do, this will go a long way towards reaching an agreement on what needs to change.