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Starting the Dialogue with Your Aging Parents: Take it Slow and Build

March 31, 2014

I’ve been writing this blog for exactly two years now. This will be post #93. Originally, I was going to write twice a week, but found that the pressure to do that was a bit high given my full-time job, outside activities, teaching schedule for diabetes prevention, and family commitments.  I still haven’t attracted many readers or comments, but then I haven’t made an overly concerted effort to connect. Time seems to spin too fast for me to get everything done.

I do feel, however, that the information in this blog is relevant and needed by many. Thank you to those of you who have commented and passed it on to your friends. I beg your assistance in continuing to do so.

One thing I realized I haven’t really made clear in all the posts about diet, exercise, health, safety, medications, senior housing, end-of-life planning, and all things related to aging parents is that this is about “Starting the Dialogue” not dictating it.

A dialogue requires input from more than one party. In this case I would consider you and your spouse, significant other, or siblings as one party. The second party would be your parent(s).  Of course your siblings and their spouses might not be part of the first party, but actually might have input that makes them a third-party. Again, the idea is “dialogue”.

At no time am I advocating that you rush in and start telling your parents what to do. That is the quickest way for them to shut down and refuse to listen to anything more you have to say on the topic. More than likely you will never be able to sit down with them again and engage in a conversation about their ideas and wishes for their future. So how do you get past this?

  • Start slowly with open-ended questions. Let your parents do the talking and express their ideas.
  • Pick one topic at a time. You don’t have assist your parents in mapping out their entire retirement years  in one sitting.
  • Start with simple topics and build trust. For example: an early conversation would be where your parents would like to retire? or do they see themselves traveling? or what is their retirement dream?
  • As trust is built, and the conversations are easier, you can move on to more touchy subjects such as health finances, and planning.

Looking at the four points outlined above I hope you see that the earlier the “dialogue” is initiated the easier the conversations flow as the years go by. In other words, if you’re in your 20s and your parents are in their 40s or 50s it is not too early to start the conversation. Yes, there’s probably lots of time and that makes it all the easier. The trust is established early and the conversations flow naturally. Waiting until there is a crisis, illness, or death is the least likely to lead to positive outcomes.

Keep in mind that change is an integral part of living and that just because your mother stated 10 years ago that she wanted to always remain in the two-story family home doesn’t mean she will feel the same way as she ages. She may develop bad knees or dizziness so needs a single story or wants to be in an assisted living facility with round-the-clock access to care if she falls. The takeaway is to always remain flexible and open to change.  If the dialoguehas been open and ongoing this won’t be a barrier.

One other very important thing to remember is that Safety is Always the Priority! If you find that your parent(s) is in an unsafe situation then you need to intervene despite their wishes. The scenario might be failing health, dementia, an unsafe neighborhood, coercion by a friend, inability to handle finances, lack of food or standard utilities, or hazardous living conditions.

If you must intervene in the essence of safety then please do so in as gentle a manner as possible. Rushing in, taking over, giving orders, and placing blame will get you  no where and cause chaos, stress, and ill feelings. Be as gentle, yet firm as possible. You may need to involve someone to act as middle man with your parents. This can be a church leader, adult protective services, a medical provider, or a geriatric case manager.  Keep your cool, remain respectful, and allow your parent(s) the dignity they deserve.

Once again, the best time to Start the Dialogue”  is before it is necessary. Start early, keep it going, and build the trust.

All comments and questions are welcome. Please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading my blog.


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