How to Start Difficult Conversations with Your Senior Loved One

April 19, 2024

If you’ve noticed your loved one struggling with certain tasks at home, or if you’ve found yourself feeling quite worried about them when they are behind the wheel of their car, you might already know that you need to bring up your concerns in order to keep them safe. However, you might also be feeling quite nervous about sitting down with your loved one to express your concerns. Will they get defensive? Will you end up shattering their self-esteem? Will you inadvertently add tension to your relationship?


Having a difficult conversation with your aging loved one is not always easy. However, understanding a few tips for getting the conversation started on the right foot can help you feel more confident as you begin to advocate for their health and wellness.


Start with Specifics

Before you even bring up the subject to your loved one, you want to spend time preparing your own thoughts. This begins with a journal, piece of paper, or a blank doc on your notes app. Take time to write down specific events that have happened that have made you feel worried or anxious about their safety or the safety of those around them. Write down the event, the aftermath, as well as how you noticed your loved one react.


For example, you might recall that three months ago your mom called you after she fell in the shower. She was fine and didn’t need to go to the emergency room, but you saw that she was shaken up and worried about the event. You also noticed that she put off her next shower for a full week before she tried again.


Or, you might write down that your dad got into a fender bender in the grocery store parking lot a few weeks ago. He got a ticket for it, and he was very stressed out about the extra financial strain that caused him.


When you have your list of things you’ve observed that have made you worry, you can take those specific instances in with you to reference during the conversation.


Resist a Big Intervention

While you certainly want to get your siblings involved and ask their opinions, especially if one of them is the primary caregiver, having a difficult conversation with your loved one plus six extra people is not ideal. The more people you bring into the conversation itself, the higher the chances that it will go poorly with your loved one shutting down immediately or with them feeling embarrassed or ashamed.


Instead, choose a representative to begin the conversation and keep the rest of the invested family members in the loop after the conversation happens.


Personalize the Conversation

While it can seem easy to begin the conversation with your feelings and your worries, choose instead to center it on the feelings and actions of your loved one. When you wrote down your specific scenarios, you wrote down how you saw your loved one be affected by it. That’s because you want to bring that aspect up so that you aren’t manipulating their feelings by having them focus on your worry.


For example, you can say, “Mom, I saw how shaken up you were after that fall in the shower a few months ago. I know that was scary for you and I know you are worried that it might happen again. I have some ideas for how to take some of that worry away for you.”


Encourage Involvement and Input

Your loved one should feel like they can respond to your worries and have an opinion about them. Be sure to listen well and encourage them to share how they are feeling about their health and situation as well. After all, they should be an active part of any conversation about their wellbeing!


Be sure you are giving them time to think and respond, as well as to talk about what they are worried about or experiencing. Listen well and show that you value their responses. As they are ready, have them lead the conversation towards brainstorming ideas about how they can use resources and support to feel their best.


End on a Positive Note

Starting a difficult conversation means understanding that the conversation will likely not get settled on the first try. This means knowing that you need to shut down the conversation when it is no longer productive. If your loved one becomes angry or defensive, shut it down with a simple, “I don’t want this to cause us to fight, Mom. Let’s just table it and give ourselves time to think about it.” Then, redirect the conversation or activity to something positive so that when you end the visit, you’ll both end it on a positive note. This will make revisiting the topic easier the next time.


Go in prepared, keep it personalized, and be ready to end the interaction on a positive note. You’ll find that these tips will help you keep the difficult conversations a little easier on both of you. Good luck!

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