As your parents grow older, you may be grappling with how to start some tough conversations with them about how their lives are changing and some of the choices they’ll need to make.
You’re so used to them giving you guidance that when the roles are reversed, it’s not always easy to find the right approach. But if you lead with empathy, you’ll be on the right track.
Here are some tips on how to talk to your parents about four common issues related to aging.
Giving Up Driving
Would you prefer to avoid the subject of declining driving skills with your aging parents? If so, you’re not alone. Many adult children would sooner talk to their aging parents about dying than driving, according to a survey by Caring.com.
But if you think your parents’ driving may be a danger to them and others, that’s a talk you can’t put off. Don’t lead with “You’re too old to drive.” Instead, you might ask what it’s like for them to cope with heavy traffic, careless drivers or night glare. If they have some complaints, ask if they’ve considered driving less or giving it up.
If they’ve already had an accident or close call, you may need their physician’s help to make them see the urgency. Mentioning that their doctor recommends they stop driving will likely go over better than if it’s just you who’s insisting.
Be ready to discuss some transportation alternatives. For instance, will you or another family member drive them? Are local transportation services available?
Coping with Chronic Illness
If your parents have ongoing serious medical issues, you’ll probably be facing conversations about topics like managing medications, going to the doctor and other health services, like dialysis and physical therapy. Tell them about some of the products available to make things easier for them, like pill organizers and medication management apps for smartphones. Offer to help them research and vet home health services if they need them.
Along with how they’re managing their day-to-day health, you should discuss their long-term care needs and plans. Consider mentioning the experience of a relative or friend who is dealing with long-term care. Ask them if they’ve thought about what they would want to do if they faced that situation.
Addressing Sensitive Issues
Remember those cringeworthy talks your parents had with you when you were growing up? That should help you put yourself in your parents’ shoes when you bring up sensitive topics like incontinence, needing mobility aids (such as canes, walkers and wheelchairs) and requiring help with private tasks, such as bathing and toileting.
Sometimes the conversation opener will come from them. Suppose they mention having too many steps to climb or long corridors to walk to visit their favorite people and places. That could be your cue to ask whether a cane or walker would make it easier for them to get around and do the things they enjoy. If they’ve had an embarrassing episode of incontinence, you might say, “It’s not uncommon for older people to have bladder leaks. There is underwear made of absorbent material to prevent leaks from showing.”
Aging in Place — or Making Other Arrangements
At some point, you’ll probably face the question of whether your aging parents can safely remain in their home. If staying put — that is, aging in place — still seems like a viable option with a little housekeeping or personal care assistance, feel them out about their willingness and financial ability to get that help.
But let’s say you think it’s time to explore alternatives to aging in place, like a retirement community, an assisted living facility or moving in with family members. Ask them how they feel about some of the challenges of living on their own. Then ease into a discussion of the pros and cons of moving. If they won’t hear of leaving, you may have to drop the issue for a while and revisit it when they seem more receptive.
In fact, don’t expect any of these talks about aging to be one-and-done events. Issues like driving, chronic illness, personal care and living arrangements will be part of an ongoing dialogue with your aging parents. Following these tips will help them feel empowered, not pressured, in deciding how they will live in their old age.