Not all parents like the idea of needing care. The aged care conversation can be a difficult one to have with a loved one. Especially if they’ve prided themselves on autonomy, strength and going their own way much of their life. Yet you may see an elderly parent or grandparent that could be at risk of injury and/or losing even more autonomy if they fail to accept help now.
The hardest aged care conversations to have are with people we love who are scared about what is happening and where it may lead. Or who are simply reluctant to recognise the changes ageing brings.
Here are helpful tips for starting the aged care conversation with a reluctant Mum or Dad
Make sure you time it well
You’ve had a lovely time pottering in the garden or installing that new skylight for your elderly parent. If you’re going to hang around for lunch or a cup of tea, this is a great time to start the aged care conversation.
If however the kids are bored and pinching each other for fun or you’re racing out the door to get them to soccer, starting an aged care conversation may not go that well.
Timing is everything.
If you have a reluctant elderly parent on your hands, they may try to distract you or change the subject. They may use your time poor visit against you. Or they can pull the kids in as a focus to make sure the limelight is not on them.
If you are about to start an aged care conversation, consider:
- How much time do you have to start the conversation properly?
- Are you free from distractions and other responsibilities?
- Is the person you wish to talk to fresh and focussed enough to participate?
- Have you got time to challenge any deflections?
- Have you got the privacy required to allow your loved one feel comfortable and safe?
Use open-ended questions
You may have been researching aged care options across in-home care and residential care for a while. Your first aged care conversations may have been with your partner, siblings or even your other elderly parent.
But ultimately, no matter how much research and discussion you have done, your aged care conversation doesn’t begin in earnest until it includes the person it’s meant for. And that means making space for their decisions, suggestions, wants and needs.
This is where open-ended questions excel. You can use phrases and words that help you broach topics and take the temperature on the acceptance and knowledge surrounding those topics from the person in front of you.
Examples of questions to try:
“Now that Dad has died, you are responsible for everything here. What is that like for you?”
“I have noticed your arthritis is making it harder for you to cook and clean. Have you considered what your options are when it comes to delegating some of the housekeeping tasks?”
“Some people are able to stay in their homes for longer through receiving support with cleaning, meals and general support on a daily basis through in-home care. Would you like me to look into that for you?”
Always sit the person at the centre of the aged care conversation to make them feel valued and heard.
Talk about your observations respectfully
A lot of what triggers the aged care conversation is what we notice in our elderly parents. They may seem slower, stiffer and facing more challenges as they age. Disease, disability and illness may have become a factor. They may be more forgetful or are jumbling their words and ideas.
Your elderly parent is no doubt fully aware that their body and mind is changing. This can be confronting and scary. It’s important not to add to those feelings and instead, make space for safe disclosure and discussion.
When discussing your aged care conversation, you can make it respectful by:
- Avoiding using terms that may make them feel diminished in some way. E.g. losing their marbles, going crazy, schizo or brain fade
- Check your ableism and ageism at the door. Even if you have a great relationship that involves off-colour humour, the aged care conversation is one that would benefit from valuing the person in front of you rather than leaning in on potentially discriminatory and hurtful tropes
- Talking in real terms over euphemisms. Sensitive conversations require clarity, and this is why you should use the names of any health conditions impacting the person
- Walking away if you are angry or over-emotional. While you may be frustrated by a person’s behaviour or attitude, negative emotions will only reduce the chances of a meaningful conversation
- Defer to the person and the expertise they have in their own life. It’s better to tackle the denial about declining health as a separate issue than charge in and ready for a takeover
- Talk early instead of late. It’s much easier to create an aged care plan and talk major moves if you’ve started the journey towards it in the initial stages or when it has become mission critical.
While you want your elderly parent to ultimately make the decisions that arise from the aged care conversation for themselves, it doesn’t hurt to go prepared with information. Or at least have the ability to invite them along to find out what their options are.
The government, private and public aged care providers, countless start-ups in the space, advocates There are many places in the ageing well spaces, in end-of-life and/or disability management are sharing a wealth of information you and your elderly parent can make use of. You can research together, attend seminars and spend time discussing your options before you even make the first approach to an aged care provider.
Your first aged care conversation can begin with asking your loved one if they would like to research alongside you.
You can go prepared with a laptop or smart phone and start the aged care conversation with sources like:
- Government websites such as My Aged Care
- Bodies such as COTA and Older Persons Advocacy Network
- care navigators such as Naomi Anderson of comDanielle Robertson of drcaresolutions.com
- Notable start-ups in the space such as Hayylo
- The ExSitu blog on end of life and aged care planning
- News sites such as The Ageing Revolution and The Conversation
- The BBCR community app
The aged care conversation is designed to keep the empowered Boomer and their research hungry children from Gen X and Gen Y firmly in mind. Take advantage of that!
Have a focus
Aged care conversations span everything from mental health through to physical health, social needs, property and beyond. Hitting someone with all of those topics at once is likely to make them feel overwhelmed. And that sense of overwhelm may translate into feeling bombarded, picked on or ambushed.
That’s why it’s really important to pick one focus for the initial aged care conversation. Choose the most immediate issue that you see presenting itself. That might be needing support to stay in the home. Or it might mean broaching the subject of consulting a GP for tests if you believe there is physical or cognitive decline.
By choosing the start block, you can build trust. You can also reduce the chance of overwhelming your loved one.
Start figuring out a plan
One of the best uses of the ExSitu care plan is starting the aged care conversation. Our plans are designed to keep a person’s individuality and core values at the centre of the process. Once a person goes through the ExSitu care plan process and articulates their values, it becomes a whole lot easier to broach other subjects as they present themselves.
Don’t discount the power of going prepared to talk about care from the perspective of values and what it can bring.