Difficult Topics with Elderly Family Members

difficult topics with elderly family members

Transitions are never easy, and that is certainly true for elderly family members making the transition from independent to dependent. While a battle of wills about driving boundaries, mobility aids, hearing aids or moving to a more accessible living space inspires resistance, that resistance is further compounded by dementia behaviors and/or physical ailments that cause discomfort.

That resistance, anger, resentment and frustration is vented on those who are closest to the individual – typically spouses, family members, and immediate caregivers. First, we recommend reviewing this article on Coping with Everyday Challenges, which provide a good overview of typical jumping in points.

Compassionate communication with elderly family members

Here are some of the ways you can facilitate more effective communication with elderly family members, while still remaining a calm, compassionate demeanor.

Keep in mind that seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s can say hurtful things they don’t mean. If your relative is diagnosed with a condition that causes or is related to dementia, try to keep a healthy emotional distance if they are in an agitated state of mind, always remembering their words reflect their condition and not their actual feelings or thoughts. We recommend reading New Approaches for Difficult Behaviors for more specific information on communicating with difficult elderly family members diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Schedule an appointment to visit the doctor

Would you want your child or grandchild telling you that you shouldn’t drive anymore? That you should leave the home you’ve known and loved? That you need to bring a stranger into your home to help you out around the house or keep you company? None of these are easy or comfortable conversations, especially if you’re worried about the same things but don’t want to admit it.

Hearing it from a third-party, however, especially if that third-party is an authority of some kind, can ease the transition.

When it comes to a senior’s well-being – or the well-being of others – bringing it up in conversation with the doctor is a wise move. Email your loved one’s doctor ahead of time, addressing each of your concerns so that he or she is prepared at the next appointment. Then, ask your loved one if you can accompany him/her to their next appointment to discuss some of your concerns.

Sometimes, a simple eye test will be enough for a doctor to recommend revising driving privileges with the DMV. The doctor can also mention accessibility and safety issues, and so on. Often, elders feel less affronted when instructions are given by a medical professional.

Consider creating an accessible home

If your senior is resistant to moving out of the home they love, perhaps you can make the home they love more accessible. Studies show that seniors who are able to safely age-in-place remain independent longer. The family can make an agreement that if the senior allows you to make their home more senior-friendly, the topic of moving elsewhere will be tabled for a while, with an understanding that help will be brought in as needed.

Make it all about you

Rather than making the conversations about all of the things the senior can’t do anymore, or that aren’t safe anymore, make the conversation about your personal concerns. For example, you can state, “I notice the refrigerator seems emptier than usual, and that you aren’t getting out as much as you used to. I love you and I can’t help but worry a little bit. It would make me feel so much better if you would let us arrange someone to stop by once a week to take you out, so your grocery shopping, make a few meals, clean the house, etc.”

By making it about you, it gives the senior permission to relax into the idea. They are now doing you a favor, while – in reality – they know they need a little assistance and this is a good way to get it. That once-a-week helper can then be a tremendous resource – eventually, transition to increased care as needed. Read, “What’s Right For You, Home Care or Assisted Living,”to see which is best for your senior loved one.Unless there is serious cognitive impairment, it’s critical that you understand your senior family member has the right to choose what’s best for them, even when that isn’t what you feel is best. If necessary, you might want to enlist the help of a therapist in order to discuss your frustrations and concerns and to practice the art of letting your parent, grandparent or loved one make decisions with the knowledge that you bear zero responsibility if there is a negative outcome.

Unless there is serious cognitive impairment, it’s critical that you understand your elderly family member has the right to choose what’s best for them, even when that isn’t what you feel is best. If necessary, you might want to enlist the help of a therapist in order to discuss your frustrations and concerns and to practice the art of letting your parent, grandparent or loved one make decisions with the knowledge that you bear zero responsibility if there is a negative outcome.

Hopefully, over time, and with some heart-to-heart conversations, your loved one will come around and make choices that support their safety, good health and well-being.

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