Telling your elderly parent that they need help can be difficult, so we've put together a list of suggestions that might help with the conversation.
How do I tell my elderly parent they need help?It’s rare for a person to age without developing health conditions and frailties that make it difficult for them to cope on their own. As a result, it’s estimated that one in six people in the UK are unpaid carers, meaning that they provide necessary assistance with the basic living requirements of a family member or loved one. Being a carer is highly rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Carers face daily stress, which can lead to depression, which can in turn lead to health problems. Despite dependence on others, it can be difficult for loved ones to recognise the additional strain they’re putting on their family and friends. From their point of view they may be perfectly fine, except for the odd stumble or forgetful moment. From your point of view, you might be living with the constant worry that they’ll hurt themselves when you’re out and unable to help. Acknowledging that professional care might be required can be difficult enough, even before broaching the subject with your loved one. This conversation can be a minefield. It’s important that you pitch it right so that they understand your point of view, don’t feel like you’re fussing over nothing, and don’t feel bullied.
Timing is everythingBlurting it out in a moment of frustration can be hurtful and make it seem like care is punishment for bad behaviour. Bringing the subject up during a family gathering can evoke feelings of being ‘ganged-up on’.
- It’s a good idea to lay the groundwork by informing them that you need to have a serious conversation. This can help them to listen and concentrate on what’s being said.
- It’s better to speak one-on-one, at least to begin with, so that they can process what’s being said from one source.
- Start from a position of empathy; “I’m talking to you about this because I love you and I’m worried about you.”
- Use examples of incidents that have given you cause for concern; “Remember when you had that fall? Do you remember how long it took you to recover? Every day I’ve been worried that the same thing will happen again.” Or “There are a lot of opportunities for accidents here, and if something were to happen to you, it might be a long time before you’re found.” You could list the hazards that worry you, like stairs, an unsuitable bathroom, and a large garden that requires mowing.
- Be prepared for resistance. In their opinion they might have been coping well until now. It’s important to stay calm and listen to their objections, countering where you can. It might be useful to say something like, “I’m worried that if we don’t get something in place, a serious accident will happen.”
- You can apply for sympathy from them, if this has been worrying you it might be poignant to mention this; “It would make such a difference to me, knowing that you’re being looked after by someone who will know what to do if you need help.”
- It will also help to reassure your loved one that you can agree together on the kind of care they receive and for how long, at least in the beginning. Admitting that care might be required is a big step, so be prepared to ease them into it over time. As a first step, home care on an hourly basis might provide the ideal solution.
- If you can, let this conversation sink in for a few days before bringing the subject around again. You can do this by browsing carer profiles on the HomeTouch website, or by showing them an advert for a service or private carer/care option in your local area and suggesting an initial meeting.
A stronger approachIf you meet with more resistance than you would ideally expect, you can try ‘coercion’ or ‘tough love’. If your loved one is repeatedly telling you not to fuss or worry, you can use your relationship to make them understand that it’s not that simple.
- If you’ve been providing care for them until now you can explain the responsibility you feel for their wellbeing.
- If you’re a family member it might help to remind them that you’re not in a position to ‘not worry’. Perhaps remind them of times when they have worried about you, and use that comparison as an example of how you’re feeling.
- If you’re considering home care, it might help to reassure them that you’re not suggesting a carer as a step before sending them to a care home, but as a measure that will mean they can stay in their own home for longer, possibly for the rest of their lives. Reinforcing the idea of prolonged independence might help them to see care in a different way.
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