Sensitive Conversations

Secrets of Successful Conversations

Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

When we wish to talk with our aging parents or our adult children about difficult or sensitive topics, we have two things to manage: the task of the conversation…and the emotions that accompany it. Each party to the conversation has needs which the other can help them meet. Simply being heard is a huge need, but receiving support, understanding, and acceptance are also important.  For each family, the pressing topic(s) will be different. But before you talk about health issues, getting help around the house, downsizing, driving or any other concerns, take some time to prepare and consider your approach: Think about what has contributed to effective conversations in the past, either with family or in other parts of your life. See the conversation as a process, not an event. Address one issue at a time. Set a mini-goal for the conversation, rather than pressing for a major decision after a single discussion. Each family has its own topics of concern but calmly discussing “what if?” scenarios may get better results than pressuring for immediate decisions. Help the other person(s) prepare.  Send a letter, an email, or phone ahead if you think it’s time for a serious talk. Brush up your listening skills, such as watching body language, re-stating what you have heard, and asking open-ended questions.   Whatever topic you choose to discuss, include these ABCD’s in your conversation:   A is for attitudes and assumptions: Why does Mom think staying put is best? Why do you believe she should move closer to you?   B is for boundaries: The adult child can talk about what they can and cannot do for your parents. The older parent can clarify which decisions they want to make for themselves, without well-meaning interference from their grown children.   C is for changes, now and in the future: Talk about changes you’ve noticed, but do it without making a judgment or attaching meaning to them, e.g., “Dad, I notice the fridge isn’t as well stocked as it used to be.” Don’t express opinions or make suggestions at this point.   Once the changes are acknowledged, talk about what those changes might mean to the person experiencing them, e.g., “How is your appetite?” or “How are you managing with the grocery shopping?”     D is for decisions to be made or deferred:  The decision can be to take action on an issue now, or simply to schedule another time and place to keep planning. Wherever possible, ask – don’t tell – and decide on next steps collaboratively. Using this ABCD framework can help you move forward, guided by your family and personal values.    Sensitive conversations can help you know where things stand, what to expect, what needs to be done. They can build relationships, allowing you to express feelings, and learn how others feel. They are the foundation of building strong relationships and solid plans for the future.   For more tips on what to do during the conversation, and what to do when conversations get stuck, consult the Sensitive Conversations section in the ElderWise e-guide, Age-Smart Planning. This e-guide also covers the “top ten” topics you and your family need to address to be proactive and prepared.     (c) ElderWise Inc., 2012   You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents…and anyone wishing to do “age-smart” planning. Visit us at http://elderwise.memwebs.com/ and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.          ...

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“Just in Case” Conversations

Posted by on Jun 26, 2012 in Planning, Safety Concerns, Sensitive Conversations |

If your summer travel plans include a long-distance visit with aging parents, why not use the opportunity to do some “just in case” planning?  The relaxed pace of summer may offer a friendly environment in which to reflect and plan ahead. Also, being face-to-face may allow you to accomplish more than planning from a distance. Here are five tips for getting started, whether you are travelling across town or across the country!   1. Take note of warning signs that your parents may not be coping as well as before. Check for changes in these 4H’s: health, hygiene, housekeeping, and hazards around the house, as well as other areas where they are getting or needing more help. Share your observations about changes, but resist the immediate impulse to offer your solutions.  Listen and reflect before responding.   2. Start or continue conversations about sensitive subjects: framing these discussions as being of help to you may make them seem less intrusive to your parents. Also, give advance notice that you wish to talk about these topics. Allow everyone some opportunity to reflect and prepare when discussing important matters.   What are the “must-discuss” topics? Top of the list is whether your parents’ powers of attorney for finances and health careare in place or have been updated. Where are the other important documents that might be needed “if something happens”?   Finances may also be on your radar – a gentle conversation-opener can be asking whether there is anything you need to know about your parents’ finances as you do your own financial retirement planning.   Your parents’ living arrangements may be fine for now – but what happens if their health takes a sudden turn for the worse? A “health emergency plan”is a good tool for all families to have, but especially where families live hours apart.   Next, find out if your parents are familiar with seniors’ services in their community. Larger centres have dedicated seniors’ resource offices; in smaller communities, you may have to start with the local public health unit.   3. As a family, research and visit some nearby assisted living and long-term care homes. Everyone’s health may be good now, but things can change quickly. If a health crisis happens, and your parent cannot safely return to live at home, knowing which care homes they prefer can be a boon at times of illness and stress. Remember, these properties are for those who need medical oversight and personal care. You can explore other “downsizing” options, such as condos and retirement residences, too.   4. Get acquainted with your parents’ neighbors and the group of close friends who looks out for each other. Having a local contact can help ease your worries or check on parents’ well-being if you cannot contact them.   5. During this time, keep things in perspective. Manage your emotions and expectations. This type of forward planning is not an “all-business” project; rather, it’s a process that involves reflection, patience and building trust.   You can expect resistance to change, even denial, along the way. Emotions may consume more energy than performing the tasks at hand. You may have to deal with old relationship dynamics and alter some established behaviour patterns before you can move forward.     Taken all together, this tip list may seem daunting. But it’s still best to get started now, before a crisis happens. Take one step at a time, commit to the next step, and steadily build towards a solid plan for that “just in case” someday.   Get started or re-started this summer!   © ElderWise...

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Parents Who Won’t Accept Help

Posted by on Feb 7, 2012 in Caregiving, Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

Originally published at www.thestar.com on September 3, 2010. Seniors resist help at home Susan Pigg, Living Reporter More than half of seniors resist asking for help, even from their adult children, fearing it signals a neediness that could land them in a nursing home, a new study shows. That fierce resistance is playing out in so many family squabbles — from the silent treatment to bitter turf wars between aging parents and their grown kids — that the home-care agency Home Instead Senior Care has just launched a series of online self-help videos, one of them focusing on communication. “This is a big problem for family caregivers,” says Bruce Mahony, owner of Home Instead’s Toronto office. “If seniors admit they need help, they think their independence is in question. They worry about losing control of their affairs.” Fifty-one per cent of 24,147 adult caregivers surveyed across Canada and the U.S. by Home Instead Senior Care from 2004 to 2009 say their aging relatives can be so reluctant to accept help, they fear for their safety. Some worry their elderly parents are forgetting to eat meals or take medications in a misguided bid to maintain their independence. Others are managing to hobble along with considerable help from elderly partners who are getting sick struggling to keep up appearances that all is well, elder-care experts say. But a big part of the problem is baby boomer children who feel the overwhelming need to parent their parents, says Mara Osis, co-founder of Calgary-based ElderWise Inc. which offers “family coaching” and advice via the book Your Aging Parents: How to Prepare, How to Cope. “We stress that you are not your parents’ parent. You need to see each other as two adults of different generations trying to work out a problem,” says Osis. The struggles can be even more complicated if the parent is suffering from early dementia and feels confused and threatened by any changes or in-home help from strangers. “Boomers are used to being very much in control of everything in their lives and being able to effect change, so when they see that they are getting push back from their parents, it’s an unfamiliar role. “Sometimes the adult child creates their own problems by saying, ‘I’m just going to fix mom and dad and their situation because the solution is very simple from my point of view.’ ” Read the complete article   ...

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Holiday Visits with Aging Parents

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Family Relationships, Power of Attorney, Sensitive Conversations |

Holiday visits with aging parents can mean travel across town, across the country or out of the country. Sometimes, aging parents are well enough to visit us; more often, we are seeing them in their daily surroundings. These visits are great opportunities to plan together for the future, and to make note of your concerns about an aging parent’s well-being. In-person visits can also be the best times for a relaxed chat on important subjects … if conversations are approached with calm, care and respect. Here’s what to keep in mind as you prepare: 1. What are the topic(s)you want to talk about? What would you like the result of the first/next conversation to be? Don’t expect to be able to tackle several big topics or come to big decisions quickly. Think of it as a journey, with several small steps and milestones along the way. 2. Begin by talking about something you may have noticed. Gently express concern by talking about something concrete. For example, Mom’s weight loss and a look at the contents of the refrigerator can lead to discussing her overall health – or just getting help with cooking meals. 3. Relate an experience someone else has had. Sharing a friend’s distressing experience with their parent’s estate can help turn the focus to wills, powers of attorney and estate planning. You could say what you are doing as a result, then ask your parents about their situation. 4. Think about the way your family typically talks with each other. If you approach discussion the way you have in the past, you will likely get a similar result. 5. Be aware of established roles and relationships. How will this affect the chances of you really listening to others, or being listened to? 6. Expect to find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster. Seeing changes in an aging parent’s situation can be upsetting. 7. Consider getting help with difficult conversations. A trusted family friend, another respected relative, family advisors, or an ElderWise coach can bring a more rational, objective view to an emotional situation. 8. Think of the holiday conversation as a foundation for further discussion and action. The key is to start the process in an unpressured way. Give everyone time to think and reflect on important matters. Preparation, patience and respect go a long way to insuring holiday visits with aging parents will be pleasant as well as proactive. Vol. 4, No. 15 © ElderWise Publishing 2008-12. You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise, Canada’ go-to place for “age-smart” planning. Visit us at http://elderwise.memwebs.com/ and subscribe to our FREE...

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Sensitive Conversations

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

Many of us have concerns about our parents’ health and well-being, or about their living arrangements. Our concern can lead to anxiety and frustration and we can be tempted to offer advice about “solutions” that seem obvious to us.  But our parents won’t welcome unsolicited advice any more than we did when they offered it to us. Successful conversations depend on two things: the kind of relationship you have with your parents and the nature of the conversation. If you have always been the “wonderful daughter”, you might be able to influence your parents. But if you have had a history of arguments over the years, this pattern will likely continue if you approach your conversation in the usual way.  Many topics are also touchy: For example, money. Many older adults are uncomfortable or even refuse to talk about it. Also, they might find it easier to talk about physical health than emotional well-being.  Is there a sensitive conversation in your future? Consider these approaches: Put aside your own agenda. First try to understand your parents’ needs, their fears, and their hopes. Ask your parents for their thoughts first, before presenting your concerns and suggestions Write them a note. This way, your parents will not feel broadsided when you unexpectedly bring up the topic. If you can’t broach a sensitive subject, get help from a trusted friend, relative, or other objective third party (e.g., a medical professional, family coach or counsellor). Keep your worry and feelings of responsibility in perspective. Parents can and may refuse even the best advice   Here are some more listening and communication tips for more effective family discussions. Listen actively to others. Give them feedback about their opinions. Ask them to confirm your understanding of what they are saying. Make sure that others also understand what you are saying (not the same thing as agreeing!). Suspend your own judgments when listening. Pay attention not only to what is being said, but also how it is said and what is NOT being said. Watch body language (facial expressions, posture, tone, gestures) that might add to the meaning of the message or contradict what a family member actually says. Show that you are paying attention: maintain eye contact, nod, respond. Remove barriers to listening – distractions, preoccupation, and self-talk. Ask open ended questions – those that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Begin your question with “how” or what.” Good communication skills are crucial for sensitive conversations. They help create effective outcomes for sensitive conversations and positive relationships between the generations.   Vol. 3 , No. 15 © ElderWise Inc. 2007. You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at http://elderwise.memwebs.com/ and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter...

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When Aging Parents Won’t Accept Help

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Family Relationships, Sensitive Conversations |

Even families who have good relationships with each other face challenges and uncertainty when the needs of aging parents change. One of the common issues is aging parents who appear to refuse help. It causes frustration in adult children and anxiety in the aging parent. An impasse can easily result. Several new dynamics emerge. You become aware of your own emotions – worry, sadness, anger. If you have siblings, you wonder what roles each of you will play to support each other and your parents. You may feel anxious because family relationships have been strained in the past.   Most families face one or more of four common challenges:  WHAT IF MY PARENTS WON’T ACCEPT MY HELP? Initial discussions can be difficult, especially if your parents do not see the need for help, or are unwilling to accept help because they don’t want to be a burden.  People need to feel that their relationships are two-way. If you can find ways to show your parents that they are giving you something in return for your assistance, they may be more inclined to accept your help. Your parents may worry that getting help means a loss of independence. Try to discuss this topic when it is a “future possibility.” Ask your parents how they want to handle future needs for support. You may need to obtain more information about services available in your parent’s community so that your parent is making an informed choice.  Some people refuse help because of mental or emotional problems or disorders. If your parent has addictions to alcohol or drugs, he/she may not willingly accept your advice. If your parent has a long-standing mental health disorder, they may rebuke advice for treatment. If you are caught in one of these distressing situations, you might find help by accessing a local seniors’ centre, local health organizations, or professional counseling. It’s important to involve others in these discussions. When someone else notes the need for help and confirms what you have been saying, your parents may be more inclined to agree. They may listen more closely to their peers or prefer to have friends help out rather than ask you to do so. Ultimately, you must respect a parent’s decision even if you do not agree with it. Unless there is a major risk to others, or your parent is not competent to make decisions because of a medical diagnosis, your parent has the right to choose. Adapted from: Your Aging Parents (2ed.), p.62 These situations have the potential to push a family further apart, but they can also bring it closer together. Managing our own feelings and reactions, respecting and accepting other viewpoints, and communicating effectively are the keys to surviving these challenges.   Vol. 6, No. 3, © ElderWise Publishing 2010. You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise, Canada’s go-to place for “age-smart” planning. Visit us at http://elderwise.memwebs.com/ and subscribe to our FREE...

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