“The Talk” about health is more important than you may think

Just about everyone remembers having the awkward “birds and bees” talk but now you may find yourself initiating a different, yet equally uncomfortable discussion with your parent(s) about their health.

Though it might be difficult to start “The Talk”, having the discussion is very important, especially when it comes to a condition like atrial fibrillation (AF). AF is a serious heart condition that increases the risk of stroke, and can be asymptomatic. The incidence of AF doubles with each decade of life and after age 60, one-third of all stokes are caused by AF.

If you’re uncomfortable starting “The Talk”, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, 30 per cent of Canadian adults with living parents said they don’t quite know how to start conversations with them about sensitive health topics. But, the good news is “The Talk” is easier than you think.

To help, a new website, www.StrokeAndAF.ca has helpful information as well as an amusing and customizable video featuring a barbershop quartet that can be used as a gentle door opener to get the conversation started.

There are also seven easy steps to have “The Talk”:

1. Start early. Knowing that the prevalence of AF doubles with each decade of life beginning at age 55, it may be best to start the conversation then.

2. Be supportive and understanding. Your parent(s) may not know how to initiate a discussion about their health for fear of causing alarm among you and/or your siblings. What’s more, health concerns can become more frightening as one gets older.

3. Use everyday opportunities to initiate “The Talk”. Your parent(s) may resist a formal talk, so use everyday opportunities as an occasion to start a discussion. For example, while in the car together, bring up a recent website you visited, or television ad you saw on the topic of AF. Ask them if they’ve heard about it and how it is linked to stroke. Gently suggest they raise it with their physician because not everyone will experience symptoms of AF.

4. Listen to your parent(s). Yes, you still need to do this as an adult! Give your parent(s) your undivided attention, and follow their lead. By actively listening to them you can gain valuable insight into their wishes and the role they see you and/or your siblings playing in their health care as they get older.

5. Be patient and try to be honest. It may be difficult for your parent(s) to express their feelings and fears, so try to be patient with them. This conversation may not happen all at once, but may build over time as they gain more confidence and comfort with the topic.

6. Develop a plan. A resource like StrokeAndAF.ca is full of information about stroke and the link between AF and stroke, as well as the role potential caregivers, like you, can play.

7. Keep the lines of communication open.  Once you’ve had the initial talk, don’t end the conversation there. Bring up the topic occasionally to keep it top of mind for your parent(s). Also, suggest that they make their pulse check part of their routine annual physical exam with their doctor. If your parent(s) should receive a diagnosis of AF, take action right away; suggest that they talk to their doctor about an appropriate treatment plan to control it and to reduce their risk of stroke.

Having “The Talk” can be challenging, but it’s not impossible and it’s a conversation worth having before it is too late because stroke won’t wait.

For more information, visit www.StrokeAndAF.ca.