Advise Me

How To Have Difficult Conversations With Your Senior Parents

Have you noticed some changes in your parents recently? Maybe they’re having more “senior moments” than usual, or they’re having more difficulty with daily tasks these days. Whatever it is, you know it’s time for you to say something, but you don’t know how.

Discussions like these can be terribly uncomfortable for everyone involved. Whether you need to take the keys, make a necessary move to an assisted environment or implement in-home care. We caught up with Lori Nisson, Banner Health family and community services director, to talk about the best way to have the conversations nobody wants to have.

“As our parents age, we find ourselves caring for them as they cared for us growing up,” Nisson said. “The subtle role changes and an increased awareness of our parents aging and mortality can make us uncomfortable and create a barrier in effectively addressing these issues.”

While we might not be able to handle these conversations easily, the advice below can help make your discussions as productive and comfortable as possible.

Plan Ahead

“Difficult challenges we face are often related to the diagnosis of a serious illness like heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s or related dementias,” Nisson said. “Managing these challenges can mean limiting the person’s independence, which is a sensitive issue. We should balance self-determination with safety.”

In delicate situations like these, it’s important to know what you want to cover ahead of time. Try to ask yourself a few questions in advance, like:

  • What do I hope this will accomplish?
  • How will I know if this is successful?
  • Are there others, such as a sibling, parent or close family friends I should be sure to include in these discussions?

Feel free to prepare a few notes to help guide the conversation. Setting an outline, even if it’s loose or in your head, will make it easier to steer the discussion back to the topic if things get off track. Distractions will make this even more difficult than it needs to be, so try to schedule a time of day when your parent will be fresh and most responsive.

Guide the Conversation

Be as calm, warm and as empathic as possible. This may be difficult for you, but it’s likely even harder for your parent. If you can, try offering choices to empower them to have some level of input in the outcome.

Bring a relative or friend with more influence into the loop to support you. Make it clear to your parent that your intention is not to overwhelm them, but that your united perspectives demonstrate they are cared for and supported. Make sure to listen to your parent’s input, be compassionate and validate the feelings behind the message.

Be Clear

Make sure everyone involved understands the next steps before moving forward. If you discussed the importance of advanced care planning, be clear who is responsible for finalizing the documents. If you need to limit the person’s driving, make sure there is a clear plan to assist that person to get around town moving forward. Providing as much clarity as possible will not only cut down on the amount of back-and-forth but also help your parent feel more secure in the decision. Be gentle but firm in sharing concerns and solutions.

This is a Process

Keep in mind that progress is progress, no matter how small. Even if the timeline is immediate, remember that this will likely be just the first in a series of conversations. Don’t feel like everything has to be accomplished at once and try to check-in regularly to move forward.

Most importantly, maintain your parent’s dignity as much as possible.

“Remind the person that they have taken good care of you and you want to ensure they too are well-cared for,” Nisson said.

If you would like some advice or assistance having difficult conversations with your parents, make an appointment with a Banner Health specialist.

Senior Health