5 communication tips for difficult care interviews

Talk often because we never know when the wishes of our loved ones will change or the situation will change due to changes in health, finances or housing, for example. We need to be aware of the current wishes of our loved ones and ensure that plans made years ago are still viable.

2. Observe and do your homework before you act.

If you’re suggesting a change for your loved ones, spend time with them to observe and gather accurate and specific information about your concerns before you even start a conversation. If you want to talk about driving, ride first to make valid observations. Worried about their safety at home? Stay with them for a few days to get a real feel for the situation. Mail piling up? Do they have difficulty navigating stairs? Are they able to prepare healthy meals? Talk to people who see them regularly and try to be objective.

Then research support and care options for them. If you want them to stop driving, be prepared to share other transportation options. If you think they need home help, be prepared to explain who could help and how it could be paid for. If you think they should move, find out about housing options, costs, and locations, as well as what activities, meals, and transportation are available there. Never make a change unless you have realistic alternatives to offer.

3. Approach with love, concern and support.

Remember that you are all part of the same team with a common goal: the best possible care and quality of life for your loved ones. You all want them to be as independent as possible for as long as possible. Be clear that your thoughts and actions are driven by your love and concern for them. Be sincere; they’ll see through a snow job right away. It’s not about buttering them up for fall. It is honest, caring and clear communication. Starting with a confrontational and negative attitude will sabotage the discussion. Don’t make it a power play or make them feel threatened or defensive.

Our role as caregivers is always to support our loved ones – not to completely take over their lives – unless they are deemed completely unable to do so due to cognitive impairment. If you are caring for your parents, I urge you not to take the view that you are raising them now. You may be playing more of a supportive role now, but our parents will always be our parents and they will respond much better to a respectful and compassionate attitude.

4. Communicate effectively.

Use conversation starters. If you’re not sure how to broach the subject, try an indirect approach, such as discussing an article or book you’ve read, a friend’s situation, or a TV show. You’ll find many great articles and videos on AARP’s Caregiving website and AARP’s YouTube channel.

Use “I” statements. Saying “You have to…” or “You just have to…” puts people on the defensive. Instead, try saying, “I’m concerned about…” “I want to help you with…” “I’m wondering about…” “I’d like to support you in…”

Ask for their opinion. It’s not a one-way conversation, so ask them how they think they’re doing and what adjustments they’ve been thinking about. Specific questions can be helpful, such as: “Do you have any worries or concerns?” “Is taking care of the house and garden becoming a challenge for you? “Would a little help with certain things ease your stress?” “I wonder what your wishes are should anything happen to you – do you have powers of attorney established?” “When it’s time for you to hang up the keys, have you thought of any other changes you want to make?”

Listen, reflect and validate. Focus on listening with an open mind, then rephrase and reflect on what they said. Have compassion for their situation and understand that change is difficult for everyone. The unknown can cause fear and discomfort for all of us at any age. It’s normal to want to avoid change, so let them know that you understand their feelings of reluctance, fear, anger, or despair, and that you want to help them change more easily. Sometimes people just need to recognize that it’s hard to deal with.

5. Include key people in the conversation.

Sometimes the right people at the table can make all the difference. It may be important to include a certain family member they listen to, or a respected advisor such as a lawyer, doctor, religious or community leader, or friend. You might even consider an objective third party like a care manager, counselor or family or elder care mediator to help facilitate the conversation.

Approach these conversations with patience and with realistic expectations – it may take several of them before reaching a mutual agreement and making decisions. Be open to solutions you haven’t thought of and make them as easy as possible for the people you care about.

For example, when we wanted dad to stop driving, we met his trusted doctor who brought up the subject; it was easier for Dad to assimilate. Then Dad insisted that he and Mom move to a senior citizens’ community because they didn’t want to be isolated in their home. We had many conversations about the big move. I visited a dozen places (my sister joined me for several of them), then I narrowed it down to three, which we took to visit with my parents. We agreed with one of the three picks, so they made the final decision. Many other conversations took place about the details of this move and their care in the following years. But the bottom line was that I did my best to make sure they felt loved, supported, empowered, and more in control of their lives – whatever decision they had to make.

Amy Goyer is AARP’s expert on family and care and author of Juggling life, work and caregiving. Connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitterin AARP Online Community and in the AARP Facebook Family Caregiver Group.

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