Posted on Monday, November 28, 2011

Speaking with an elderly parent whom you believe needs care or assistance can be very difficult, especially if they are resistant to the idea. They may feel strong and healthy enough to care for themselves, or they may simply not be comfortable with the thought of having a stranger caring for them. If they are developing any level of dementia, they may not be able to rationally see their own need. When approached about this topic, many seniors fear they are losing personal control and independence. Adding to this emotional upset is the complex, new relationship forming between parent and child. Their rolls are shifting and now the adult child must make decisions for their parent. This new identity structure can feel strange and uncomfortable for both, and may add more friction to the situation.

Strategies for Communicating with Parents

Consider the following strategies as you plan for a conversation with your parent about their care needs:

1. Listen and learn why they are resistant. Avoid interrupting them — give them plenty of time to express their feelings so that you can understand why they do not want or think they need help. It could be something expected, such as a fear of the cost involved. Or, they may be apprehensive because they think the goal is to place them in a nursing home instead of simply arranging for a few days of in-home assistance each week.

2. Sometimes resistance and inability to think clearly is effected by illness, especially if they are experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, or if they have had recent surgery or a stay in the hospital. Depression, which is very common among seniors, can cloud their thinking. Just being diagnosed with an illness can also lower an elderly person’s capacity to think and reason clearly. In cases like these, it is very important to express yourself and your concerns in a very calm manner. Avoid forcing answers or decisions. Assure them of your concern; perhaps that you may, unfortunately, not have the time to care for them as much as you would like, and that having additional help would be a great support for you as well as for them. Express that you want to continue enjoying your relationship with them as their adult child, and not become their caregiver.

3. Try to keep the conversation positive, focusing on the benefits. Encourage them about how great it would be to have a companion in their home to enjoy conversation and prepare home cooked meals, especially if they have been living alone. Because home care aides can usually provide transportation, discuss the fun of getting out in the car to run errands, trips to the store, hair appointments, even visiting with friends. Perhaps your parent has difficulty with bathing or dressing; describe the comfort and assurance they will feel having assistance with these basics of daily living. Many home care companies, or individuals who are caregivers, are willing to work with the family and give the relationship a test run for a short amount of time. Often, when a good match is found between caregiver and senior, they become more willing for and interested in continued care.

4. Consider including a professional in the conversation. Often seniors will listen to their physician before they will take the advice of their own children. Also, research “geriatric care managers” in your area — most will come to the home and talk about the many options and benefits of in-home care.

For more information, or to take a senior care assessment, go to

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