Talking Through Tough Topics with Aging Family Members

Aging is a natural part of life, but that doesn’t mean conversations surrounding it are easy. You want to prepare your family members for what’s to come as they get older, and it’s important to talk about things sooner rather than later. Here, we’ll cover how to best approach talking about the tough topics with your family members and why you should do it as soon as possible.

When Should I Talk to My Aging Family Member?

The best time to have tough conversations is as soon as possible. You never know when something may happen that prevents a family member from making decisions on their own. Many people put off these topics because they feel they have more time, and they eventually get put on the back burner. Don’t wait until a major medical diagnosis or accident happens to make the time. You want to secure your family member’s future, which may influence yours as well.

How To Approach Conversations Surrounding Tough Topics

When getting ready to have a conversation with an aging family member, it helps to first make a plan. Here are some tips to avoid frustration and miscommunication when discussing difficult topics.

Consider Communication Styles

Think about how your family member communicates or reacts to specific situations. Do you think they’ll keep an open mind about tough conversations? Or will they shut down or try to push them off to a later time? Consider this information before sitting down to talk.

It’s also important for you to think about your communication style. Use assertive communication during these tough conversations and focus on “I” statements. Avoid making claims like, “You never listen to me when I want to talk about something important.” Instead, you can say, “I would like you to consider what I have to say, as I’m thinking of your best interests.”

Choose an Appropriate Location and Time

Next, think about when and where you’d like to meet with them. Having a face-to-face conversation is best to make your feelings known and avoid confusion. Choose a quiet, private location where your family member feels comfortable. Meet at a time when they’re available and won’t have another commitment afterward. You want to keep plenty of time available to discuss everything if possible.

Think About Who You Invite to the Conversation

You may want to invite others to the conversation to share their thoughts and opinions. It’s a good idea to consider who would be best to include without overwhelming your family member. Your overbearing sibling with strong opinions may not set the right tone for the conversation.

Inviting too many people can also become a problem — your family member may feel that you’re ganging up on them, making them defensive or overwhelmed. Limit the meeting to 1 or 2 extra people as needed.

Important Topics to Discuss with Aging Family Members

Have you noticed your mom forgetting important family commitments lately? Has your dad’s hearing declined in recent years? It’s concerning seeing an aging family member struggle with their health, but you can play an important part in getting them the help they need. Here are some common topics that you may need to discuss.  

Living Wills and Advance Directives

Did you know that two-thirds of Americans don’t have a living will or advance directive in place? These legal documents are used to outline your family member’s wishes when it comes to their end-of-life care. Without an advance directive, it can be difficult to make medical decisions on your family member’s behalf.

It can be difficult navigating the process of getting a living will or advance directive. An elder care attorney is a great resource for creating these documents. The attorney can also document financial wishes and ensure your family member’s money is taken care of. Call your local Office of the Aging or search the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) website for an elder care attorney near you.

Memory Changes and Safety

According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), over 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease causes memory and cognitive problems that continue to worsen over time. If you’ve noticed your family member has become more forgetful lately, it’s time to have a conversation.

Your family member may initially be resistant to a conversation about their forgetfulness and mental well-being. Some people get defensive and even deny they’re having any problems. During these talks, give specific examples of behaviors or changes you’ve seen. Encourage them to make a doctor’s appointment and offer to go with them for support.

People with Alzheimer’s disease eventually lose the ability to sense the world around them. This makes it difficult for them to cook, drive, and take care of themselves. Use the tips above to approach conversations about their safety. Your family member may not want to give up their independence. Be sympathetic to their feelings but remind them that you’re only thinking of their best interests.

Talking Through Tough Topics with Aging Family Members Infographic

By Emily Wagner

Emily earned a Bachelor of Science in biotechnology from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2018 and a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology from University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in 2020. During her thesis work, she studied non-small cell lung cancer and how the immune system plays a role in response to different treatments. Emily feels privileged to use her research acumen and scientific mind to write about topics that advance the health and wellbeing of others. She currently lives in Colorado where she enjoys the mountains, spending time with her dog, baking, and reading a good book.