It’s not easy coming to terms with the fact that a parent’s health is declining. Parents often are reluctant to admit they may need help or that they can’t continue to take care of themselves and the house the way they once did.
If you notice mail piling up, dishes stacked in the sink, or things in the house in more disarray than what’s typical for your parent, then you have reason to be concerned. It’s important that family members take a mental assessment of their parent’s home when they visit. As people age, they work hard to maintain their independence and often try to hide their struggles. I once worked with a family whose mom wasn’t bathing because she no longer could get in and out of the shower. The mom was reluctant to admit it to her family, fearful of having her independence chipped away, piece by piece. Even though something as simple as a grab bar in the bathroom would have been an easy fix, it required an open, honest conversation.
So, how do you have “the talk?” Here are some tips on how best to broach the subject that it may not be safe for Mom or Dad to live alone without some help.
How to talk to your aging parents about help around the house
It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much “help” you think your parent needs, understand that – to your parent – you’re still the child. Avoiding sounding critical or disrespectful to your parent (even though you have the best of intentions) may help the conversation go a little smoother. For example, instead of commenting on how dirty the house is, offer to help. Suggest coming back in a couple of days to run the vacuum, dust ceiling fans or other hard-to-reach areas or offer to put a load of laundry in the washer. Simply ask, “How can I help?” That’s far better than saying, “You need help.”
It’s a conversation, not an intervention
Even if your parent needs help, it’s best to give them an opportunity to be the one to ask. Begin the conversation casually. Ask how things are going. If you find an advertisement for a house cleaning service or lawn company in the mail, point it out and ask if they are interested in having some help. These can be small conversations that happen over a period of several days or weeks, rather than a formal, sit-down, serious talk.
Timing is everything
You may have mustered up the courage to bring up your concerns, but your parent may not be emotionally ready to hear it. Before having the talk, make sure they are in good spirits. If they are upset, seem depressed or out of sorts, find a different time to talk. It’s important to help them remain calm. If you begin the conversation, and you can tell they are resistant, back off and try again another day.
Involve them in the decision-making
Older adults struggle with losing their independence, so don’t make things worse by barking orders and taking control. That’s only going to make them angry, resentful or refuse to cooperate. Make it easier on everyone by involving them in the process of change – even regarding little decisions. You can do the legwork and ask if a service is accepting new customers, but let your parent decide which company to hire. If a grab bar is needed in the bathroom, let them choose where it should be located. Make sure they feel like they are still in control. Little things can make a big difference.
Bring others into the conversation
As people age, they often don’t recognize their limitations. They may begin making excuses for why they haven’t taken their medication, picked up around the house or haven’t eaten a proper meal. They may cover for a spouse, also. For example, a spouse may not be ready to accept that their significant other has dementia. If it seems like they aren’t listening to your concerns, it’s okay to ask someone to help you talk to them. Sometimes hearing the same thing from someone else makes all the difference. Applicable across all ages, if your loved is more receptive to receiving information from a doctor, faith member, other professional or sibling – use them.
CICOA has several resources to help, and through our CareAware services, we’re here to help family caregivers navigate their loved one’s aging journey. These conversations aren’t easy, but they are necessary to ensure your mom, dad or loved one is in a safe, secure and healthy environment.
Whether you’re taking care of aging parents, grandparents, a spouse or partner, or a child or adult with disabilities, we provide coaching to help you on your caregiving journey.
Chelsea is a caregiver options counselor at CICOA, where she coaches family caregivers of older adults and people with disabilities who need intermittent or long-term support services. Chelsea holds a degree in sociology from the University of Georgia and currently is working on a master’s degree in clinical psychology. Chelsea’s passion is to help individuals find healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors so they can live peaceful, complete, safe and whole.