To help adult children of older adults know what to say, here are some scenarios of common senior topics. Responses were developed in cooperation with Jake Harwood, Ph.D., communication professor and author from the University of Arizona.
When Health Changes Lifestyles
Your 70-year-old, widowed mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration, a disease causing eyesight deterioration. How do you begin a conversation about the possible ramifications of this disease in her life?
Many seniors in this situation may begin the conversation themselves. If not, think about her personal circumstances and important areas to address. For example, if your mother lives in a remote area, transportation is probably the most immediate issue. Approach the conversation with the goal resolving this one issue, rather than multiple issues. Your mom would likely be receptive to a conversation that begins with: “Let’s figure out a plan for how you can get around town if you no longer feel safe driving.”
When the House is a Mess
You find that your 77-year-old mother’s house is in disarray when you visit. You believe it’s time for her to make a change in her living arrangement. What do you say?
Observation and careful attention to the problem should be first. Avoid diagnosing a problem and deciding on a solution quickly. Approach your mother with a sense of working together and finding a solution rather than telling her what to do. Is the problem that your mother is physically challenged by housework or is she mentally deteriorating? If it’s physical, begin the conversation by saying: “Mom, I have some extra cash. How about we find someone to help you with the heavy stuff, like vacuuming?” Seniors are often very willing to accept help around the house.
After finding many light bulbs burned out in your 86-year-old parents’ house, you believe they’re beginning to need more assistance. As the oldest of five children, how do you approach your siblings?
You might say to a brother or sister: “I think Mom and Dad may be having problems changing their light bulbs. Have you noticed anything?” Get involved in a group-think cycle where the siblings start recognizing these issues. If the parents need more help, that shouldn’t result in siblings picking out a nursing home. Perhaps all your parents need is a little extra assistance.
The Money Talk
Your parents have always been independent and private about handling their finances. Lately, you’ve seen they’ve been cutting back on food and necessary products. How do you approach this subject?
A conversation starter may be, “There’s not much food around the place—what are you guys eating?” Take a humorous approach over an accusatory tone. If this is too casual, try: “Mom I’m concerned about whether you and Dad are eating enough.” Malnourishment is a problem with older adults, and it can even be a sign of something besides finances, such as poor-fitting dentures or depression. If it’s financial, make an offer: “I know your private about money, but you know if you ever ran into problems, I’d do what I can to help, right?”
Source: Home Instead Senior Care 70-40 Rule Booklet