Having “that talk” with your parents

A neighbour of your 83-year-old dad has called to tell you he saw your father back his car into a light pole. You find that your 77-year-old mother’s house is often in disarray when you visit and you believe it’s time for her to make a change in her living arrangement. Or, your 70-year-old widowed mother has just been diagnosed with macular degeneration, a disease that causes deterioration of eyesight. How do you begin a conversation with her about the possible ramifications of this disease on her life? What do you say?

The issues of aging often leave caregivers speechless. These issues can challenge even the family where communication is free and open. And when that happens, it’s easier not to talk at all.

But leaving unresolved issues can cause resentment and overall confusion and danger. If you are over 40 years of age or your parent is over 70 years of age, it’s time to start talking about some of the important issues in your and your seniors’ lives. Some of these issues might include:

•  Driving

•  Making a will

•  Health changes

•  Paranoia

•  Proper hygiene and clothing

•  Medication issues

•  Forgetfulness

•  Safety

•  Finances

•  Dating

Many adult children with aging parents know how difficult it can be to talk with their senior loved ones about certain topics. Home Instead Senior Care and communications expert Jake Harwood, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona, have prepared tips to help family caregivers communicate with their aging parents on sensitive subjects.

•  Get started – If you’re 40 or your parents are 70, it’s time to start observing and gathering information thoughtfully and carefully. Don’t reach a conclusion from a single observation.

•  Talk it out – Approach your parents with a conversation. Discuss what you’ve observed, using concrete examples, and ask your parents what they think is going on. If they acknowledge the situation, ask your parents to suggest a good solution.

•  Sooner is best – Talk sooner rather than later, before a crisis has occurred. If you know your loved one has poor eyesight and is driving at night, begin to address those issues before a problem arises.


•  Forget the baby talk – Remember that you are talking to an adult. Patronizing speech or baby talk will only put your loved one on the defensive.

•  Emphasize solutions that maximize independence – Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence for the older person. Try to optimize strengths and compensate for problems.

•  Let them know you are aware of the whole situation – If your dad dies and your mom’s house soon sinks into disarray, it’s probably not because she’s ill. She’s lost a lifelong relationship and needs social support. Help her find it.

Home Instead Senior Care has developed a special program just to help you have these 40-70 conversations.

Article courtesy of Home Instead Senior Care. For more information on talking to your senior loved one, visit www.4070talk.com and read Stages of Senior Care, by Paul and Lori Hogan, Home Instead Senior Care’s co-founders.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Steve Debenport