Advice Assisted Living

I’m a Health Care Professional Who Could Use Some Tips on Advising Family Caregivers

Woman and older woman

Families find it especially difficult to talk with their aging relatives about senior care or moving to a senior living community.

Do you have any tips for helping me better prepare adult children for difficult conversations?

Tips for Helping Families Talk about Difficult Topics

Dear Lisa,

We hear this question from adult children quite often too, and are finding ourselves in the position of advisor more often than not! When an adult child becomes an informal caregiver for a parent, the role reversal can be emotionally difficult for the entire family. Aging parents sometimes just have a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that they sometimes need a little help or that they can’t keep up with things like they used to.

For some members of the older generation, talking about money in front of the children was taboo. Therefore, adult children find themselves being forced to talk about issues they’ve never before discussed with a parent.

Rather than encourage families to come up with solutions on their own — without involving their senior loved one — we suggest they start with an empathetic, but open and honest discussion.

How they tackle a senior care conversation is crucial to moving forward.

Timing is everything. Help adult children understand that having this important discussion isn’t something they can rush. It may be one of a series of conversations they have with a parent as their senior loved one begins to recognize that change is necessary. Instead, encourage family members to carve out time and find a comfortable place to initiate this first discussion.

Listen to how the senior feels. An adult child should ask the parent how they are feeling about their home situation. Do they feel like they are managing well? Are there things they are struggling with? Adult children often leap to the conclusion that a parent will never agree to move. They are sometimes surprised to discover that their parent doesn’t feel safe living alone, but hasn’t known what to do about it.

Share concerns. If, however, the parent says everything is “fine” when it clearly isn’t, an adult child might need to have their concerns ready to share. For example, if a parent has been losing weight because they aren’t able to drive to the grocery store or prepare healthy meals, ask how they think the family could work together to change that. If the family talks through these difficult issues together, they may be able to come to an agreeable solution for staying at home. Alternatively, the senior may begin to realize on their own that it is time for a move.  Helping them to come to this understanding on their own is so powerful, and far more effective than telling them it’s time.

It might make things easier for you if you create a “helpful hints” list to share with families that includes these tips and a few additional resources.

Some suggestions to share with families include:

Aging Articles and Guides: The National Institute on Aging has an online publications library. Families can download articles and eBooks at no cost. Topics range from long distance caregiving to legal and financial planning.

Benchmark Home Visit Program: Our Family Advisors and team of Community Relations Directors are trained in helping seniors who are in need of care work through their thoughts, fears and hesitations. We can arrange a time to talk with a family in the privacy of a senior’s home.

Advice for Better Communication: Another resource we often recommend to families of seniors is the David Solie book, How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders. Adult children find it helps them better understand their senior loved one’s perspective.

Argentum Senior Living Resource Center: This online support center was created by the assisted living industry’s trade association. They maintain a list of organizations and resources dedicated to seniors and family caregivers and the issues they face each day.

We hope this helps you feel more confident giving advice to the older adults and families you work with each day, Lisa!

Assisted Living, Independent Living, Mind & Memory Care
Creating a Plan