Why is it so difficult for many of us to engage in tough conversations with our parents or close relatives about their futures? Why is such a discussion with our elders often like entering a moated castle with high walls, armed guards, and nearly impenetrable access to the rulers?
It should be simple, right? We need to talk about their (fill in the space). Driving? Moving to independent living residence? Talking with an attorney about their wills? Need to check out Dad’s diminishing eyesight? Mom’s chronic imbalance?
What’s keeping you from entering the castle of elder-dom? Let’s start with role reversal: Mom and Dad were always the permission givers, advice purveyors, financiers, shelter providers, big picture designers, and decision makers. Now you want to talk with them about their safety, their finances, their care. Imagine how they must feel.
What’s left for older adults in their 80s,’ 90s,’ and even beyond? Loss of independence is all around them: Friends have died. Can’t drive at night, or not at all. Mobility hampered by hip replacement surgery, dementia, and other physical and psychological impairments. Loneliness. Isolation. A changing neighborhood. Unfamiliarity with the technological changes around them.
Many inhabitants of ‘elder-dom’ feel they must clutch onto whatever remnants of independence remain. No wonder entering elder-dom can be so challenging.
What can we do to ease our entry?
1. Listen to comprehend, not to argue. To build confidence, not anxiety.
2. Understand that these conversations are a process, not a one-shot. They may take multiple sessions over days if not weeks.
3. Focus on the issue, not the individual. If it’s your parents’ safety, focus on that, not their attitude, their possible stubbornness, nor their resistance.
4. If the conversation becomes too emotional, stop. Take a break. Change the subject. Don’t let things get out of hand.
5. Make sure you know what you’re talking about. If it’s about moving to an independent or assisted living residence, have you information on its location, cost, amenities, etc?
Entering Elder-dom is so important that we will offer more thoughts about it in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, keep listening. It’s the most powerful resource you have to breach the walls of resistance and silence.