FAQs and Answers
When should I have a care conversation with my family?
Talking about issues before they come up makes them less stressful and emotionally challenging. Of course, many times care concerns come up unexpectedly, in which case you may not have the luxury of time. In either case, try your best to initiate Care Conversations™ as soon as possible.
I’m concerned about my parents. How do I start a care conversation?
Everyone’s situation and relationships are different, so there’s no single “right way” to start a care conversation. The first conversation is often the hardest. Approach Care Conversations™ as conversation starters. The goal is to show interest and get a better understanding of your loved one’s feelings and preferences. This often comes down to listening, rather than talking.
Start by slowly asking a few small, casual questions every so often. You can mention that you sometimes struggle with a certain task and ask if your loved one does too. If you or your loved one has an immediate need, you’ll have less time to ease into a conversation. Express your concerns in an empathetic manner and do your best to let your loved one participate as much as possible in the decision-making.
My husband says he doesn’t want to talk about the future, and gets angry whenever I bring it up. What can I do?
Try taking a different approach. If your loved one doesn’t want to talk about his future, perhaps he would be open to talking about someone else’s future. Tell your loved one about a friend’s situation and casually ask his opinion. You might also ask your loved one if he would help you put your affairs in order. Start simply with a question like, “I’m thinking about my future care needs. What do you think about helping me?” You could purchase a planning workbook like Five Wishes and ask him to complete it with you. The process may make him more open to discussing his care needs, or at least give you further insight on his thoughts and preferences. If he continues to resist, you may have to wait for another opportunity or bring in an objective third party, such as a family member, doctor, etc.
I tried to talk with my parents about changing care needs, and the conversation went poorly. What do I do now?
First, don’t feel bad or guilty. The conversation may have not gone as well as you would have liked, but at least you took the first step in cooperative planning. Discussing topics such as dependence, money or end-of-life care is difficult and emotional. Like any conversation that doesn’t go as planned, you can always try again. Could you try a gentler approach or let your loved ones lead the conversation more? If you continue to have conversation setbacks, consider talking with other family members or an eldercare professional, such as a geriatric counselor.
I’m trying to discuss care concerns with my dad, but I feel like he is being stubborn and difficult. What can I do?
Talking about care can be frustrating and upsetting for everyone. Your loved one may feel like you are more concerned with your own needs or trying to make decisions for him or her. While this may not be the case, try taking a different approach. Be sensitive and empathetic to your loved one’s fears and feelings. Unless you need an immediate solution, give yourself the time you need to better understand your loved one’s concerns and future plans.
I have two sisters, but I feel like I’m alone in caring for our aging parents. How can I talk my siblings into helping?
While every family is different, it’s not unusual for one sibling to assume the role of primary caregiver. Because siblings have different personalities and different relationships with their parents, they often have different views of caregiving responsibilities. Dividing up caregiving equally can be difficult, if not impossible. Care Conversations™ among all siblings can help everyone recognize the level of care needed and ways each person might pitch in. While not always possible, knowing your parents’ wishes in advance can make a dramatic difference in the caregiving process. A senior care counselor or social worker may also be able to help you work with your siblings to share responsibilities.
When I try to talk with my dad about care issues, he tells me not to worry so much. How can I make him understand I need his input?
You might try framing your care conversation as a request for help. While parents may shrug off the need to plan for themselves, they often will respond to their children when they ask for help. You might say, "Dad, I worry that if something happens to you, I won’t know what to do. Can you tell me how you see the future so I can help you?"
I care for my elderly aunt. How do I communicate effectively with her health care providers?
Caregivers play a vital role in communicating patient needs to medical professionals. First, establish boundaries. Ask your loved one how much she wants you to be involved in her medical care. Know that under federal rules, health care providers can only share personal information with patients or their personal representatives. If your loved one authorizes (or does not object to) sharing information with family members or friends, then the law permits health care providers or health plans to do so.
Talk with your loved one or friend before each appointment to compile a list of questions to ask. Accompany your loved one on health-related visits and try to provide health care providers with as much detailed information as possible. Keeping records of symptoms and daily experiences can help your health care provider accurately assess situations and prescribe treatment. When you meet with health care providers, take notes and clarify any items you don’t understand. You can always do outside research or seek a second opinion. The key to effective communication is honest, informed Care Conversations™.
I get so overwhelmed by the legal and financial sides of care planning. Where can I get some help?
You can discuss these areas with an elder law attorney. Elder law attorneys not only know law, they also understand seniors’ unique needs and those considerations specific to care planning. Elder law attorneys offer education, counseling, advocacy and planning. They can help you or your loved one prepare advance directives, such as living wills, or assist you with estate planning. For more information on legal and financial assistance, contact your Area Agency of Aging (AAA).
I can’t continue to care for my aging parents and I feel so guilty and helpless. I feel like I’ve failed them. What can I do?
We all want to provide the best care for our loved ones, but sometimes we simply can’t do so by ourselves. Talking with family, friends or health care providers may help you feel better about the situation. They may also provide suggestions on personal experiences that offer you comfort.
My family just can’t agree on a care plan for my grandmother. Conversations are becoming increasingly tense and unproductive.
Care Conversations can often reach a stalemate. When loved ones disagree on a course of action, it may be best to seek outside help, such as an eldercare mediator. Mediators can guide the conversation, help loved ones determine a problem-solving process, and provide an objective opinion on ways to improve the quality of conversations. Because there are no licensing standards for mediators, you’ll need to research knowledgeable experts. You could start your search with resources such as the National Eldercare Mediator Network or the National Care Planning Council.
My elderly father is misinterpreting my concern for him. He thinks I’m being “nosy” and trying to take his money from him. How can I reassure him that I have his best interests at heart?
Your father’s reaction may have nothing to do with you. Many people affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia may become fearful, suspicious or paranoid. These personality changes can get increasingly worse and should not be ignored. Discuss your concerns with a health care provider or geriatric counselor as soon as possible.
My mother has Alzheimer’s, which makes it difficult for her to express her thoughts and feelings. How can I improve our conversations?
People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia often have trouble finding the right words or engaging in complex conversations. To improve communications, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends staying calm and supportive, paying attention to tone, speaking slowly, using short, simple words, and asking one question at a time. For more suggestions, view “Communication Advice.”