How to broach difficult subjects with your elderly parent

Raising difficult issues with your elderly parent isn’t easy

It may be becoming apparent to you that your parent is coping less well than they used to, either physically or mentally.

You want to help, yet sometimes it’s not always easy to broach the subject with them for fear of wounding their pride and damaging their self-esteem. Often your parent will feel deeply concerned about their own loss of independence, yet it is important to have these conversations

How can you raise difficult issues with your elderly parent?

  • Discuss the issues with siblings or family to ensure you agree on the key issues before discussing it with your parent. This might be about health issues, continuing to live alone, or management of their general finances and paperwork. Find out what the options are and how they might work
  • Think about your parent’s view as well as your own. If you think ahead about their possible objections, you can answer them calmly and knowledgeably. They may also have thought these issues through and have practical answers that you may not have thought of previously
  • Be prepared to revisit conversations several times and give your parent time to think on their own about your suggestions. If they feel under pressure, they are less likely to react positively
  • Remember that people in general do not like change and it needs to be managed gradually
  • When you do talk, make sure it is in a relaxing situation, ideally without the kids running in and out and where it is private enough to have a sensible conversation. Be prepared to listen and accept your parent’s viewpoint

What issues should I discuss with my parent?

Openly discussing what they can and can’t manage in a calm way will help all of you to make the right decisions:

Can they manage at home?

  • Can they manage the housework, cooking etc?
  • Can they manage the stairs?
  • Are they able to fix things around the house when they go wrong, or call someone who can?
  • Are they nervous about living alone?
  • Can they hear the door, television, phone?
  • Do they feel isolated or lonely?
  • Can they get out and about?
  • How easy do they find it to move around, shower and dress?
  • Is their current home too big to manage and is it convenient for the local shops?
  • An open, honest discussion will help both of you clarify your parent’s needs and agree on the right solutions

Can they live alone ?

You may well believe that your parent cannot cope at home alone any more, but your parent may disagree. You may need to discuss:

  • Getting help at home
  • Adapting their current home to assist them more easily
  • Moving to a more manageable home in terms of size and/or location
  • Moving in with you or another relative
  • Moving to sheltered accommodation
  • Moving into full residential care
  • Moving to a nursing home

Sometimes, your parent may not be well enough to participate in these conversations, but hopefully they are and if so, lay out all the pros and cons of each options, after having been through them yourself

Should your parent live with you ?

This is an option many people take and often it works very well. You need to assess this carefully, however, before making the decision

  • How will it affect your relationship with your partner?
  • How will it affect your family life with your children?
  • Do you have time to take on this responsibility and all it entails, especially if your parent needs medical care?
  • Can you adapt your home if needed?
  • Do they want to live with you?
  • Is it the right environment for them?
  • Is it right to move them to a different place?

If it is not the right thing to do to bring a parent to live with you, be honest with yourself about it and do not feel guilty. You have responsibilities to your partner and children, as well as your parent and you have to ensure that you do not fundamentally disturb those other relationships as well

Helping your parent with their affairs

If your parent is increasingly finding it difficult to manage their own affairs, or has been ill, you may want to consider power of attorney

Many people think this is a step only taken when someone is too ill to make their own decisions, but sometimes it is sensible to discuss taking this out on behalf of your parent before they become unable to cope

There are two power of attorney options: health and finance

The health option means you can make medical decisions on behalf of your parent, should they be unable to do so

The financial one means that you can manage their financial affairs on their behalf, should they need you to do so

Often this is a big decision for a parent, as they fear giving up their own rights and control of their affairs. It can also lead to sibling conflict. It is often a good idea to hold joint power of attorney with siblings, so that decisions have to be made jointly

Be sensitive and be sensible on this issue. It is a very delicate one and should only be agreed upon at the right time for all parties, especially your parent.


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