As COVID restrictions begin to lift, more families have the chance to travel to see parents or aging loved ones. If you are visiting with family and notice changes in mom or dad’s health after time apart or only virtual visits, it may be time to have conversations about a healthy aging plan.
Often times family members hesitate to talk with their aging parents about common topics of concern such as changes to health, transportation, home care, legal and financial issues as well as retirement housing. These are important topics that can’t be ignored, but may be uncomfortable to discuss. Despite any differences in age or understanding, on the most basic level, we all want to feel loved.
What changes may indicate additional support is needed?
- Difficulty keeping up with finances. Observe stacks of unpaid bills or late notices.
- Changes in personal hygiene or housekeeping that indicate parents are having trouble with personal grooming or housework.
- Your parent repeats themselves often in the same conversation, seems confused, highly emotional or exhibits unusual paranoia. This could be caused by medications or other more serious cognitive issues.
- Excessive shopping through TV or online outlets, or an unusual interest in online sweepstakes that require their personal information, phone numbers, addresses, social security or banking information.
- Your parent is extremely isolated due to loss of a spouse or loss of personal mobility.
- Numerous safety concerns in the home, such as heat, air conditioning, leaks, crumbling plaster, trip and fall hazards, steep stairways, loose carpeting and outdated electrical.
- Health concerns: disorganized medications, spoiled food in the home, lack of healthy food items, infestations or mold.
Don’t feel discouraged if you notice any of these changes. It is much better to have these important conversations sooner rather than later. It is often too late to make informed decisions or be sensitive to everyone’s point of view once a personal or medical crisis occurs. Decisions that could have been made in advance end up being made in a rush; resulting in regret, remorse and unnecessary expense.
How can I communicate openly in a caring and loving way?
Take the time to create a calm and quiet environment for conversation, especially important conversations. Making sure there is a reduction in distractions will help keep the conversation focused. Remember to pay close attention to what’s being said to ease tension, give comfort, and maintain trust.
There are often feelings of confusion and loss that come along with discussing changes in care or moving to a new place. Being empathetic is the first step to truly being open to what is being communicated.
Be Aware of Body Language
Body Language communicates beyond words and surpasses the barrier of understanding. It is important to maintain eye contact, a relaxed posture, as well as smile genuinely and often. Emotions can often be "felt" through body language and nonverbal cues.
Remember to take the conversation one moment at a time. This can be done by keeping the discussion simple and willingly repeating information. Allow for time to process the conversation without rushing the moment. This can help reduce anxiety and uncertainty.
Your conversation may be difficult or unwelcome and this could be a source of frustration for both you and your loved ones. Maintain a calming tone and body language to keep the conversation healthy. Be sure to listen and acknowledge emotions, like fear, anger, and anguish in a loving way.
Focus on the benefits of a creating a healthy aging plan.
Difficult or complex conversations are not always easy. Oftentimes people feel it’s easy to avoid difficult communications regarding health concerns because they may not want to face the fact their parents or loved ones are getting older. They may also feel that asking too many “prying” questions could jeopardize good relationships. On the other hand, they may also wish to avoid the additional responsibilities that are sure to surface as care issues are discovered.
Prioritize taking this time to enjoy each other’s company and have caring conversations. Taking the time to visit more often isn’t always possible during these difficult and uncertain times, so make the most of the moments you have in person. Your family will benefit from increased clarity and decreased conflict as they gain a sense of comfort knowing they are respecting their parents’ decisions and values. Frequent communication promotes honest conversation and can help you adjust to the many changes that take place as parents grow older.