How do I talk to my elderly parents about aged care?

We navigate you through this highly sensitive topic to help you find the best outcome for both you and your parents.

When the need for care arises in parents and the issue becomes a talking point, the overwhelming reaction is often shock, sadness and fear from both parents and children.

Of course, adult kids want what is best for their parents and for them to continue to live a safe and fulfilling life with all their needs being met. Unfortunately we don’t always know how to say the right things when discussing aged care with our loved ones. It is often not a simple process to convince parents to allow that practical level of help into their lives.

Why might parents resist help?  
According to counsellor and psychotherapist, Joanne Wilson, from TheConfidante Counselling, Sunshine Coast, there are many reasons for parents to want to resist care and it’s important for children and loved ones to consider them when broaching the subject.

“It may be that the person needing care was a very capable person all their lives and that they find it hard to face the fact that they have a more limited capability. It may be that they have lived in their home for generations and fear leaving it. In some cases it might be the fact that they still see themselves as a patriarch or matriarch of the family and don’t want to see this role diminished,” says Wilson.

In other cases, when there is a rapid deterioration physically it can be a case of change coming too quickly without the person being able to take in what’s happening to them, and this can cause confusion and fear about loss of independence says Wilson.

“I’ve worked with families that are in what we call the pre-contemplation stage – when they know some care is going to be needed at some stage, but suddenly there is a fall and a broken hip or another broken bone and this loss of mobility can be quite confronting and confusing for the person when that happens,” she says.

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Getting informed about different care options can help the way your parents view the process

Why is it hard for children?
For adult children, shock and sadness are also common reactions, but there are also feelings of guilt and frustration that they are letting their parents down in some way by not being able to offer the care themselves. These feelings can lead children to feel like they need to act hastily or to force the issue home, but this is entirely counterproductive says Wilson.

While people needing care make up about 20 per cent of Wilson’s clientele, quite often the problem surfaces in other relationship therapy sessions. “What our parents do affects us and our relationships in different ways.” Wilson points out.

More often than not the practicalities of finding the right kind of care can lead to sibling arguments, with everyone but the person needing care getting a say in what should actually happen.

Among the chief concerns are financial worries, the issue of finding the right carers, and even the question of whether the carers will do as good a job as the children think they can. “It’s quite common for children to say something like ‘I give mum or dad medicine three times a day. How will I know that the new carer will do as good a job as I do?’” says Wilson.

So how should you approach the subject with your parents? Here Wilson offers her top tips for positive communication with your parents from years of experience in counselling families on the subject.

Step 1. Be respectful
Avoid being disrespectful and talking down to your parents, recommends Wilson. Instead, reinforce the reason you want them to accept care is because you love them and you want to see them safe and happy. “It’s important to focus on the positives in the conversation. Say something like ‘Mum, dad I’m worried about your health and safety. You burnt yourself yesterday and I’m concerned about you. I love you and I want you to be happy,”’ she says.

Step 2. Be patient
Wilson warns about trying to make things happen too quickly. “Being rushed and hurried can lead to a great deal of stress at that age,” she says. Rather than forcing the issue when they’re psychologically not ready, she encourages children to start the ball rolling early before care is needed by having an open conversation about the topic over a period of time. “The families that I see coping best at this transition time are the ones that have opened those communication lines early and discussed the options available,” she says. “Your parents might not listen to you this month, but next month they might,” she adds.

Step 3. Address the key topics
Your loved one’s health and safety is key, says Wilson and it’s important not to skirt around that issue. “If you notice that they are suffering burns, if they are becoming confused about appointments, or if you notice something else that makes you worried, you have to ask yourself ‘Can my parents live alone without being supported?’, and then make sure you cover this in your conversation with them,” advises Wilson.

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Addressing the key issues through positive communication can help express your concerns without causing resentment

Step 4. Avoid negative talk
Try not to complicate the topic by bringing up negative memories from your past. Stay away from saying things like “You were a bad parent, this is how you brought me up,” says Wilson. These sorts of comments are only going to cause resentment.

Step 5. Call in a third party
It’s often the case that the closer we are to someone the less they want to listen to our advice. This is commonly the case in parent child relationships. If communication breaks down completely often a third party can help reignite the topic in a positive way, says Wilson.

“That person may be a family friend, next door neighbour or even a counsellor. “As a counsellor I like to see where in the circle of change that person is, and then I can help them find what needs to be done to move on to the next stage in the best way possible,” she says.

Step 6. Explore the issue together
Gathering information by speaking to a service provider about the different care options can really change the way your parents view the whole process. “Think about what your parents like doing and how they might be able to achieve that in their care situation. Sometimes when the person learns what aged care will allow them to do, they get really excited and that can really invigorate their lives,” says Wilson.  

Why is Just Better Care a smart choice?
One company that can act as a third party and help you explore the best options together with your parents is Australia wide in-home care service provider, Just Better Care.

Just Better Care representatives can help simplify the transition to in-home care by sitting down with you and your parents and then drawing up a care plan that exactly matches your parents’ needs. Just Better Care takes into consideration a whole range of personal factors such as the type of care required, a care budget and any care your parents might already be receiving to provide care that exactly meets your parents’ requirements.

For more information about aged care options for your parents visit www.justbettercare.com.au or call 1300 587 823.

What questions would you like answered about caring for your parents? Join the conversation below.