Noticing a change in your parents, and their ability to cope on their own, is difficult to deal with. You want what’s best for them, but don’t want to cause conflict by ‘meddling’, especially if they don’t agree that they need help.
Losing control of your life can be scary, especially when you have been in charge for the last 60 years. Elderly parents being inflexible on seemingly trivial changes to make their life easier can be due to fear of a slippery slope of losing independence, and not wanting to admit that they cannot cope alone. This has big implications for their sense of self-worth and dealing sensitively with this can be vital.
As a care provider, we are often called in after or during a crisis – be that a fall, hospital admittance, or when help is desperately needed. This is because it can be such a difficult subject for families to broach before it is urgently necessary.
What we find works best is when elderly parents and their grown-up children or friends think long-term about the future, and acknowledge that they probably will need help. Having a small change earlier allows a relationship to build between care provider and client, which can help later on.
Some important tips to remember when talking about extra support:
It can be better to start with the problem as you see it, and try to work out the options in partnership with your parent, rather than going straight to what you think the solution is. Starting with “I’ve noticed you haven’t got much fresh food in the house these days” may get better results than “I think we need to call a care agency”.
2. Blame health issues
Sounds strange, but people are generally not ashamed or scared of asking for help when they have medical problems. If your mum has mild memory issues and a bad hip, using the hip as an excuse for extra support can work better. It is less threatening and permanent than having carers in because her memory is failing. And after all, once her hip is better, she can cancel the support if she would want.
Have the time to finish the conversation, and not to rush it. Timing is also crucial. If they are upset, worried about something, or are not in the right frame of mind to talk about it, it can be a non-starter.
4. Baby steps
You won’t get everything sorted in one conversation. Establishing and agreeing the need for extra help is the first and most important step. Without this, it’ll be difficult to be able to effectively organise care. The thought of a care home or visiting care can be daunting, and often, much worse than reality. Care agencies will be willing to meet you and your parents, and often having a no obligation chat about the sort of help needed can settle nerves and stop the imagination racing!