Communicating with Elderly Relatives About Difficult Topics

By Dr. Vanda

As your parents age it may become necessary to speak to them about difficult topics, things you have never spoken to them about before, things that were always ‘none of your business.’  These topics may include:

·         Is there a need for them to move to an assisted living situation or a nursing home?

·         Who will have power of attorney if they cannot make their own financial or health care decisions?


·         Do they have or want a living will?

·         What are their preferred funeral arrangements?

Your parents have always been the grown-ups and you have always been the kid.  This role reversal can be difficult for both parties.  It becomes especially difficult if you have never spoken to your parents about important issues when you and they were younger.  Luckily communication can be learned.  In this article I will discuss some basic communication strategies to make these discussions go a little smoother.

  • Be prepared.


Plan when and where you will have this discussion.  Spur

of the moment discussions about “hot” issues can be disastrous.


Before an important discussion you need to decide on the specifics

you expect to cover. Try not to veer off into other areas that are off the point. 


  • Leave old history out of it.


Related to preparation is being careful not to bring up old history. The oft repeated stories of who did what to whom has no place in this conversation if you truly want to accomplish anything.  In a prepared discussion you are more able to leave those old issues behind.  Remember: This is now.  See your parents as they are now.



  • Is it a good time for your parents to have this conversation


You may have planned ahead for this conversation and the time may be right for you, but a conversation involves at least two people.  It won’t go well if you spring it on your parent without

giving her the opportunity to a say whether she also considers this is good time .


Of course, if no time is ever a good time for your parent you may have to plan a time to gently speak with her about her resistance or avoidance.

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