“Dad, How ‘Bout Those Seahawks?”
Many adult children of aging adults know how difficult it can be to talk with their parents about age-related topics. Jake Harwood, Ph.D. in Communications, and Jim McCabe, Ph.D., President of Eldercare Resources, a geriatric and care management company, offer tips to help family caregivers communicate with their aging parents on sensitive subjects, which are often avoided.
1. Pay attention. If you’re 40 or your parents are 70, it’s time to start observing and gathering information carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t reach a conclusion from a single observation or decide on next steps until you have gathered information with an open mind (and heart) and talked with your parents.
For many aging adults, the biggest fear is being a burden on those they love. The fact is that as we age, none of us can move the same way we used to. Changes in vision and hearing may require that a person make special accommodations to manage activities of daily living. Even with a decline, an aging adult still has the ability to adjust to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The key is not to wait. Choosing to be proactive about medical appointments, medication management, diet, and exercise are great ways to maximize our health for as long as possible.
2. Talk it out. Approach your parents with a conversation, not an ultimatum. Discuss what you’ve observed and ask your parents what they think is going on. If your parents acknowledge the situation, ask them for possible solutions. If your parents don’t recognize a problem, use concrete examples to support your case.
The key in all of these scenarios is communication. Block out time to have a family meeting to discuss issues of concern; and if there is reticence to tackle the issue, ask a third party to help you. Your planner, a geriatric care manager, or other professionally trained counselor can facilitate the process. Those individuals who have had “the conversation” with their loved ones will say that managing the expected and unexpected events of life are better when a plan is in place.
3. Be proactive. Talk sooner rather than later when a crisis has occurred. If you know your loved one has poor eyesight or has trouble driving at night, begin to address those issues before a problem arises.
4. Be real. Remember you are talking to an adult, not a child. Talking down or using baby talk will put older adults on the defensive and convey a lack of respect for them. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and think about how you would want to be addressed in the situation.
Financial security is one of the primary keys to safety and security as we age. This is an area where working with a professional financial planner may be of the utmost necessity, particularly as parents do not disclose their finances freely. Very few have the training and experience to manage and plan financial affairs to the maximum benefit, over an extended period of time. Much like engaging the help of professionals in health care matters, a financial advisor is critical to age-related life planning.
5. Maximize independence. Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence for the older person. Look for answers that optimize strengths and compensate for problems. For instance, if your loved ones need help at home, look for tools that can help them maintain their strengths. Professional caregiving services provide assistance in a number of areas including meal preparation, light housekeeping, and medication reminders. Alternatively, consider finding a friend or rotate family members to provide assistance.
6. Safety matters. Falls can cause moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can increase the risk of early death. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Fortunately, falls are a public health problem that is largely preventable. Almost universally, people have a goal to stay at home for as long as possible. To age-in-place, evaluate the following:
- What are the risks in every-day living which could be eliminated so as to minimize the chance of you being the victim of a home accident?
- Are the halls and walkways free of clutter?
- Does the bathroom have grab bars and non-slick surfaces?
- Is the entry to the home as accessible as possible?
- Are their stairs at the front entrance, to the basement, into the garage, to another level of the home?
Consider conducting a Home Safety Assessment, or having a professional perform a safety review of the living environment. Often these reviews will include a written summary of the findings and recommendations for follow up.
7. Recognize the importance of control. The ability to drive probably offers the greatest way to exert independence, as it offers the freedom to shop, socialize, and attend religious services. While many driving difficulties are age related, there are great resources for adjusting to the changes. AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) has excellent tools for assessing driving skills and valuable classes to improve driving technique. Alternatively, many communities have transportation programs that are available for little or no cost.
8. Be aware of the whole situation. If your father dies and your mother’s home is now in disarray, it’s probably not from an illness or disease. More likely, it’s the result of a lack of social support and the loss of a life-long relationship. All of us benefit from relationships with others, particularly those who have suffered a loss. Make sure any aging adult has a social network and something/someone to care about.
9. Ask for help. Many of the issues of aging can be solved by providing parents with the support they need to continue to maintain their independence. Resources such as health centers and local senior citizen centers can help provide solutions.
- Aging and Life Care Professionals
- National Elder Law Foundation
- Aging with Dignity
- Family Caregiver Alliance
- Navigating Your Later Years for Dummies by Carol Levine
- The Conversation Project