It may feel as awkward as talking to your teenage kids about sex, but there comes a time when you need to talk to your elderly parents about getting some assistance.
That could be because their physical or cognitive health has declined or because of concerns about their safety. It may also be because you’re stretched too thin to manage work, home, kids and increasing parental care. So, how do you broach the conversation?
1. Accept That It’s Really Several Conversations:
Nothing big should be decided in a hurry. You may need one conversation that plants the idea of getting help and explores feelings around that. Then another that looks at the type of help available and what it looks like in practice. Then another that gets more specific. And another that reviews plans. Your mum or dad’s feelings may fluctuate and you need to be patient with this, allowing them time to adapt to the idea and taking their concerns seriously.
2. Put Yourself in Their Shoes:
Are you surprised when you look into the mirror and see a middle-aged face staring back at you? You probably still feel 20 on the inside…and so do your mum and dad. They’ve worked and raised a family. They may have travelled or been leaders in their community. They don’t think of themselves as old, frail or needing aged assistance.
When older people resist help, it’s often because they don’t think they need it or they’re afraid of what it signifies. Your parents don’t want to lose their independence or freedom. They may also have some negative views of aged care services, perhaps based on experiences caring for their own parents or the influence of friends. And they might be worried about the cost.
3. Pick the Right Moment:
Choose a time when your parent is relaxed rather than rushed or anxious. Think about their personality – is it best to raise the topic in a phone call and let them know you’d like to discuss it when you visit this weekend? Or is it best for it to arise naturally during conversation about their week or their health? As you talk, judge their level of readiness to accept help. If they don’t seem willing, then don’t drag the conversation out – you’re planting the idea and can come back to it another time but it’s important to keep the tone positive and respectful rather than pushy.
4. Deal With the Facts:
Emphasise all the things your mum or dad still does well. Maybe that’s keeping the garden going, having a busy social life or maintaining a positive outlook that encourages you. Then gently highlight the areas where you’ve noticed they could do with some help, such as home maintenance, grocery shopping or getting to appointments. Help them see that these things have begun to require a big investment of their time or energy, or aren’t being done because they’ve become too hard. If they had more help, they could spend their time on more enjoyable things.
5. Deal With the Fear:
Understand that change is hard for most of us. Try to explore what it is they’re afraid of – it’s often things like loss of independence or being mollycoddled or patronised.
Look at ways of managing the fear or shifting their perspective. For example, having support doesn’t mean losing independence. Indeed, many people find the opposite to be true. The right support services may actually help your mum or dad maintain their independence and freedom by enabling them to remain safely in their own home and active in their community.
As for being mollycoddled or patronised, that’s about finding a service whose ethos affirms older people, recognises their rights and treats them as individuals. Ask about how these values translate into practice. Remind your parents that they can always choose a different service if they’re not happy with the first one they pick.
6. Nothing About Us Without Us:
This is a disability rights slogan that expresses the idea that the people most affected by a decision should be involved in making it. So, don’t race ahead and arrange the ideal solution without the close involvement of your parents. You can offer to make phone calls or do other research but try to make decisions together. (This level of shared decision-making may not be possible when caring for a parent with dementia.)
7. Mention Your Needs:
The honest truth is sometimes that outside help is becoming necessary because you can’t do it all anymore. Many people in the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ are caring for older parents while raising their own kids and working hard to pay for it all. You can’t afford to burn out – especially when there are other options available.
This is a tricky topic to raise because you’re probably feeling a bit guilty about it. So, perhaps focus on the underlying point, which is about the kind of relationship you’d like to have with your parents. Sometimes the practicalities of caring for someone begin to overshadow the rest of the relationship. Of course, you care for your parents and want to remain closely involved. But you’d like to be more involved with their life than with their care.
8. Research the Help Available in Your Area:
What kind of help is most needed? Is it help with getting to appointments or activities? Is it help with showering or remembering medications? Is it help with home maintenance or emergency assistance? Once you’ve narrowed it down by discussing it with your parents, you can start looking for support services for elderly people in your area. Then, next time you talk to your folks, you can discuss the actual options available (and the cost) and start making some choices.
9. Have a Trial Period:
If your parents remain hesitant about getting help, then suggest a trial period of a few weeks or months. Check the service provider’s cancellation policy and work around that.
At the end of the trial period, or at regular intervals, ask your mum or dad how it’s going. Hopefully, they will have experienced the benefits of help and be keen to continue. But, they also need to be able to raise anything that’s bothering them and see that it’s taken seriously. Are there too many different carers instead of a few familiar people they can get to know? Is there a personality clash? Is a different type of help needed?
So, when the time is right, open up a conversation about how things are going and why some other help might be needed. Be prepared for this to be an ongoing conversation over the coming weeks and months. And treat your parents the way you hope your kids will treat you in a few decades or so when they think you need help!