Tips For Communicating With Your Ageing Parents
Communicating with your ageing parents (or grandparents) isn’t always easy but talking with your loved ones is so important. To help you through this situation, we have written about the tough conversations you should be having with your loved ones. We’ve also included our tips for effective communication skills to help you during these difficult conversations with your ageing parents.
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Why Communicating With Your Parents As They Get Older Is So Important
You might have thought that the awkward, tough conversations with your parents were over when you stopped being a teenager.
Fast forward the years however and as you notice your senior parents are getting older, there are some important topics to cover so you understand what they want.
We know these emotion-laden conversations are not easy to have, but these are important issues to cover. Holding them before it’s too late will ultimately ensure that you, their adult children, have their best interests at heart and are helping them fulfill these.
The Topics To Speak With Your Older Parents About Now
You’ve seen the signs that your parent is getting older, and now you want to speak with them about this. As I’m sure you appreciate, this won’t just be one quick conversation.
The topics you will want to cover are both emotional and functional, and will take time to think about and discuss.
The Physical Health MOT Talk
I don’t know about you, but when I ask my parents about their physical health, I get a very short reply. Don’t be deterred, especially if you have noticed signs that they are changing physically (for example, falling over more or finding exercise harder).
Sit down with them and find out when they last went to the doctor, what their physical concerns are and what medication they are taking. Ask them what physical changes (if any) they have noticed. For example, are they finding it harder to go to the toilet, or use the bathroom?
Discuss next steps – do they need to see a doctor, speak with a nutritionist, do more exercise? Starting the conversation now not only gives you an insight into their health, but will help you to help them plan for a healthier future.
On the subject of health, ask who they want to act as Health Power of Attorney. Once legally appointed, this person can make health related decisions on their behalf, and it’s important to set this up when your loved one still has capacity.
The Living Arrangements Talk
Take the time to understand where they want to live as they get older, and see how you can feasibly make this happen.
The majority of people want to stay in their current house but there are things to consider here. Are they coping living there? What level of support do they currently have (or are willing to have in the future)? What home modifications could be made?
If they were to move, where is logistically viable? Consider what moving in with family could mean, or look into other independent living options.
The Finding Out The Finances Talk
We’re living for longer nowadays which is fantastic – but it does mean that our finances need to be spread over a longer period of time.
Talking about money isn’t the easiest conversation to have, but it’s an important one. Sit down for an honest and confidential talk about their finances. From money in the bank, stocks and shares, their pension and other funds, heirlooms or even money under the mattress.
Knowing what finances there are, and what they want from their future will help you all work out how to best achieve this.
It’s also important to discuss financial power of attorney – who would they want to make financial decisions on their behalf? Setting this up when your loved one still has capacity is important.
Talking about money can be hard for some people. If you find it difficult to discuss this important issue with siblings, or can feel their resentment then check out the article we wrote about resolving sibling conflict.
The Staying Active Talk
Keeping on the go and staying active as you age is so important for physical and mental health. The over 65 age group actually has the most to gain from exercise.
Adult children should use this chat to find out what their elderly parents feel they can do to stay active and get moving. Don’t pressure them to exercise, but use the time to help them understand what they could achieve, explain the benefits of regular exercise and show that you’re supporting them. And if you want to find out about gentle and quick exercises which can be done at home, look no further.
The Mental Health MOT Talk
Getting older can be a lot to get your head around, and the older generation (especially men) can often shy away from talking about their feelings.
Encourage your aging parents to speak to you about their hopes and fears, and how they are feeling. Airing their feelings will be a load off their shoulders, these communication skills can bring you closer together.
The Life Story Talk
Think about all the half stories you know of their past, and use this time to connect the dots. Ask them about growing up, how they met their life partner, what aspirations they had and how these have been met.
Taking this time to reminisce will ensure you have family stories to pass down and memories to cherish. It could be an idea to film or record the audio of these stories, capturing them (and your loved one’s voice) for posterity.
The Future Wishes Talk
Yes, this could be an emotional discussion but having it will provide clarity on what your loved one wants for the future, and is an important step to take in caring for an elderly parent.
As a first step, make sure they have a will. There are other documents which could help ensure their future wishes are kept to. A living will (also known as advance decision) lets your loved one express their wishes for medical treatment or care.
A statement of wishes works alongside your will. It’s not legally binding but allows your loved one to give directions that they would like carried out (such as who should look after their pet or guidance on how your money should be managed).
And then talk about the funeral and any ideas they may have on how that will look.
Tips For Communicating Effectively With Your Ageing Parents
So now you know what topics to cover, but how do you go about asking them? Here are our top tips for communicating with your ageing parents.
Don’t Surprise Them
Tough conversations can become more difficult when someone (in this case, your elderly parent) feels it has been pushed onto them suddenly. Planning to have the conversation means you will avoid running into communication problems from the beginning.
Explain to your parents that you love them and want to have a conversation to discuss a certain topic because you love them. Asking them to consider the important issue beforehand will ensure they feel well informed and know what they want to say.
Choose A Relaxed Setting
Once you’ve all agreed to have the conversation, choose a location where they feel comfortable, and a time that suits them. This could be at their home, so they feel more in control or it could be a neutral setting with less distractions. Due to the emotional nature, try and keep it private if possible.
Talking about the future with your senior parents won’t be a quick conversation. Each chat will uncover something new and it’s important that they voice their wants. Be patient, even if their ideas change over time. Work with them, not against them and show how you have their best interests at heart.
Really Listen To What They Are Saying
You’ve all set aside the time, physically and emotionally for this. Take the time to really listen to what they’re saying (and not what you want them to say). Some things may surprise you! Emphathise with them where you can, and see how you can get a plan to put into action.
Make It A Family Matter
These are important conversations to have, so make sure that you have the support of other family members if possible. You can all support each other on the day, and take on different tasks to try and help your parents moving forwards.
You have your parents best interests at heart which is amazing, but you also need to be realistic. Collectively work out what is possible, who can help with what and how this can be put in place. Don’t make promises (such as inviting them to live with you) that you can’t keep.
Keep An Open Mind
There’s no “right” or “wrong” answers here. Instead, listen to what your parent is saying and look at options. Once you know what’s possible, it’s easier to spot the solutions.
Remember It’s About Them, Not You
It’s tough, but this is about them and not you. Don’t push your ideas, judgement or opinions onto them, unless they are asked for. Listen to what they want, and work out how you can collectively achieve this.
Do Your Homework
Do your prep and find out about local options which could help them moving forwards. Being prepared will help you answer their concerns and show that you are taking this seriously. Use Google and ask for recommendations to find out what options are available.
Don’t Pressure Them
You’re holding these conversations because you love and care for your parents – and you want to help them live the life they want. Whilst these conversations may be upsetting or frustrating, don’t put pressure on them.
Gently speak with them and remind them that you’re here for them. The decision needs to be theirs ultimately and you’re just helping them realise and achieve this.
Write down what was discussed and the outcome of each conversation, and share it with everyone involved. This can help avoid matters down the line if people interpreted things differently. Actions can be divided up (and followed up on) and clear notes will make future talks easier to start.
As our loved ones get older, take the time to speak with them. Understand what they want for their future years and make a plan for how you can achieve this.
This article outlines important conversations to have and tips for communicating with your ageing parents. We hope you found it useful. You might be interested in other blog posts we’ve written, such as making life easier for older adults and the complete guide to wills.
You’ve taken the first step, which is realising you need to speak with your elderly parents about the future. Our tips for having challenging conversations with your parents include: planning to have the chat and having it in a relaxed setting, remembering that it’s about them and not you, bringing in key family members and being realistic. These conversations will be time consuming and emotional, and it’s important to give them the focus they deserve. Good luck.