Change is difficult for most of us. It often means moving on and leaving something behind — a place, a person, a routine, a job, or sometimes even ideas you’ve held fast to for a long time. It is not
unusual for others to see a need for change in someone else’s life before the person sees that their situation has become unworkable or unsafe.
With older adults, they perceive the appropriateness of their living situations, activities and daily routines through distorted, rose-colored glasses. Often, adult children are the first to come to the realization that their aging parent is not functioning as adequately in their own home as they used to. You may be like most adult children and hope your parents, as they age, will make sound decisions about their lives on their own. You want them to recognize their limitations and make necessary adjustments as smoothly as possible.
However, if your parents don’t observe their needs and make changes, you might expect that just telling them what you think they should change about their lives will be enough to get them moving in the “right” direction. After all, you are suggesting these changes out of love and a desire to reciprocate some of the caring they have given you all your life. Your ideas are for their own good and should naturally be reasonable to them. For example, you may sit down for difficult conversations with your aging parents about: explaining that it is time for your dad to stop getting on the roof to hang holiday lights, that it’s time for your mom to stop driving, or time for them both to move to a facility that can care for their daily needs.
Well, rarely is any discussion about change easy, especially when suggestions come from someone else and imply that you are less capable than you want to be. However, it is often up to adult
children to broach difficult conversations with your aging parents and recommend changes, large and small. But be prepared; despite your love and concern, your parents may respond with a lot of resistance. What is logical to you may be tantamount to “giving up” to them.
Once a parent, always a parent. Your mom and dad may be entrenched in that identity; the idea of reversing roles with you feels degrading and wrong. You, the “giver,” may feel very frustrated, rejected and even angry by their response. Loving reciprocity is the furthest thing from their sense of personal order –”I’m the parent, you’re the child,” is their psychological mantra. Even if your mom lives under your roof, she may still resist your suggestions. Here are some tips to make it
easier to deal with resistance and find successful solutions for everyone involved.
How to Approach Change and Difficult Conversations with your Aging Parents
Be patient! Keep in mind that change will occur slowly, in small steps
Try to avoid drastic changes all at once whenever possible
Keep a respectful attitude
Maintain clear communication (LISTEN to the concerns expressed and try to address them)
Acknowledge their fears/concerns and talk about what might ease their mind
Keep things in perspective
Let go of things that don’t really matter
Don’t get in a power struggle, be flexible and try to listen to the core concerns being expressed
Sometimes your parents will insist on keeping things the way they are no matter how respectful or creative you are when having difficult conversations with your aging parents. You feel the situation is on the track towards disaster — but, from your aging parents’ point of view, things are just fine.
Remember, people make choices and take risks every day…Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t take risks anymore. Your parents have a right to make risky choices (not hire help, not move, not see the doctor, not taking medication etc.) as long as they are mentally competent to understand and weighthe risks. If you think your parent has dementia or you question if he or she can fully understand the risks, seek help from a professional like a geriatric care manager. Keep in mind, your older family member has survived many years and has had to develop endurance, faith, resourcefulness, and creativity to get through life…these traits can sustain your parent through difficult times.
Elayne has been a professional geriatric care manager for more than 25 years. She was a founding member of the Florida Geriatric Care Managers Association, and she is currently a member of the Case Management Society of America and the American Counseling Association. Elayne is a passionate and caring Alzheimer’s advocate, and a professional trainer and educator.