Updated March 22, 2022. 

Our parents often need extra help as they age but they may resist the extra attention to their personal matters. Having tough conversations with our parents about their future health and well-being can be difficult for us and frustrating for them.

Conversations about caregiving or financial management are difficult for aging adults because, to them, it may signify a loss of autonomy or independence. They may rebuff your suggestions for a myriad of reasons – not wanting to give up important decision-making opportunities or allowing others to help in their day-to-day life.

Our care team works with aging parents every day, and we have had the opportunity to learn a lot from them. Join us as we review 10 tips to make difficult conversations with your parents a little bit easier.

1. Start Early

When an urgent medical issue arises, your parents are likely to be under duress and reluctant to talk about the future due to their anxiety about the situation at hand. Change the timeline and try to be proactive – approach difficult topics with your parents when they are rested and relaxed. This will make it easier to explore tough topics and get their thoughts on how your family should proceed. This will help determine the right way to manage the conversation going forward.

Adult talking with older mother

2. Exercise Patience

Go into sensitive conversations with an open mind and be patient – don’t set any hard outcomes for your first discussion. Your parent may prefer postponing discussions about their finances and caregiving options until they’ve had time to acknowledge their new needs as they age. Start with small and simple suggestions to help acclimate them to your willingness and ability to help.

Getting your parents to acknowledge and accept help may be difficult – it’s important to be prepared for rejection or avoidance in these early discussions. However, if your loved one is facing immediate health or financial risk, bring up the issue quickly and persistently until you can create a suitable resolution.

3. Choose the Right Conditions

You can determine the right time and locations where your parents will be most receptive to discussing their age-related needs by observing their behavior during your regular interactions. Try to introduce topics like caregiving preferences and legacy in a private, relaxed, and comfortable environment. Draft your goals and strategy before approaching your parents so you can keep your conversation productive and on-track.

4. Do Your Homework

Find out what options and local care resources are available for your parents. Being prepared with well-researched suggestions will drive your conversation from hypothetical thinking to concrete planning. Take some time to understand what kind of impact extra care could have on your parents’ lifestyle. If your parents need regular monitoring and assistance, explore our service pages to learn how our in-home care services can help them with their daily routine and maintain their independence.

5. Involve Your Siblings or Other Close Family Members

Discuss your concerns and observations with your siblings, close family members, or close family friends to get their observations, as well. Focus on your parents’ best interests and come to a resolution together to avoid any future disputes. Be sure that all relevant parties are kept in the loop with the status of your parents’ health and well-being to reduce the risk of unpleasant surprises or stressful confrontations.

Family having conversation at dinner table

6. Lead with Empathy

The thought of aging or the possibility of losing their independence can be emotionally taxing for people as they age. Use empathetic language when discussing their care needs and future health choices. Remember, these conversations are tough by nature, but it is important to fully define your parents’ medical wishes so you can honor their decisions should the need arise. Be compassionate and address their concerns openly. While this is a necessary and important conversation, it can also bring up feelings of fear and vulnerability. No one likes to think about the end of their life, so be sure to use phrases like:

  • “I respect that this is difficult, but let’s make sure that we set up a plan the way you want it.”
  • “Thank you for talking about this with me, I know it must be hard. We’ll get through it together.”
  • “Let’s sort out the details now so we have a plan, and then we can do something fun.”
  • “I want to make sure you are taken care of in the same way you took care of me.”

7. Really Listen

As you discuss your plan of action for their care needs, don’t forget to really listen to your parents. As you’re talking, consider these questions:

  • Are your parents masking anger or fear?
  • Are there things they regret and hope to change?
  • Do they have unmet goals they still wish to achieve?

Take this opportunity to help them seek closure on the things they cannot change and find the tools and resources that can improve their current quality of life. Be sure to ask about their feelings first, and offer helpful suggestions after they’ve had an opportunity to share. Once these issues are out of the way, it will become easier to discuss their current and future needs.

8. Avoid Pressure

Your objective should be to create an environment of understanding with your parents so they feel comfortable having these sensitive end-of-life conversations. Try to present your points without using forceful language. When you want to suggest a change, start small to help your parents adjust. Gentle conversations are more likely to provide better results than attempting to force your parents into new habits or new ways of thinking.

Caregiver with elderly man in wheelchair

9. Get Outside Help

You may need to seek professional guidance when helping your parents determine the right course of action for their end-of-life plan. Find experienced attorneys or legal counsel to help draft important documents like power of attorney in case of medical emergencies. These professionals work with diverse clients and have the experience to provide helpful guidance on the best plan of action based on your needs.

10. Take Notes

Discussions about end-of-life care and plans are on-going and can change based on factors like your parents’ health, financial situation, and mental state. Take clear notes during your conversations so you can review details and go back to your plan as needed. Recording your parents’ thoughts will make future conversations easier.

Even though you want to help your parents stay safe and get them the care they need, it is also important to recognize that their fears and objections are valid and absolutely normal. Thinking about end-of-life care can be unsettling; be gentle and pragmatic so you can help your parents make the best decisions for them. If you would like more information on how non-medical in-home care can help your parents stay happier at home, please contact your local ameriCARE to connect with experienced, compassionate caregivers in your area.