Navigating Delicate Conversations: Discussing Aging Loved Ones' Changing Abilities

Nicole M. Clagett Image
Wednesday, October 11, 2023

When a loved one's physical, emotional or mental health starts to decline, it can be challenging to initiate a conversation about it. Whether you're a child addressing your parent's changing abilities or a spouse facing a less-than-ideal future for your golden years, these high-stakes, emotional discussions can either strengthen or strain relationships.

Conversations about declining abilities are difficult for various reasons. They involve not just the affected person but also siblings and relatives with different perspectives and motives. Every intimate conversation carries the risk of being misunderstood and facing rejection, which can lead to family conflicts.

Relationships with family members are emotionally charged due to years of shared experiences, often accompanied by emotional baggage. These courageous conversations can be emotionally draining, requiring empathy for the other person's perspective, and understanding of how their declining abilities have already impacted their lives.

Here are some tips to approach these conversations effectively:

1. Start Early: Discuss long-term care wishes with your loved ones while they are still physically well. Choose appropriate moments when the family gathers to broach this sensitive topic.

2. Family Discussion: Involve close family members in the conversation and gather their observations and recollections of previous healthcare and financial discussions. It's crucial to identify any conflicting views early on.

3. Keep It Simple: Begin with less emotionally-charged questions about how they envision their future in an ideal world. Gradually delve deeper into their thoughts on long-term care.

4. Show Respect: Maintain respect for your loved one's feelings and choices. Empower them by involving them in the decision-making process and acknowledging their loss and struggles.

5. Listen Actively: Practice active listening by focusing on the conversation, using body language to show attentiveness, and reframing what they say to ensure you understand their perspective. Avoid forming responses while they are speaking.

6. Get Creative: If your loved one is resistant to help, consider creative approaches, such as involving a trusted third party, like clergy or a physician, who they may be more receptive to.

Handling concerns about a loved one's age-related decline is a significant challenge that can disrupt established power dynamics. Accept that you can't force them to accept assistance, but you can educate yourself on available resources and if you feel they are at risk, you can involve Adult Protective Services. Remember that caregiving is a journey, and courageous conversations are the first step toward finding the right solutions.

If you are caring for a loved one, hop on over to ABC11's Caregivers Corner to get support from more than 2,500 other people in our community who are faced with similar challenges.