Carol Cummings, RN, BSN, Expert on Aging Well

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04 April 2016

conversation about senior living

My husband bought a new car recently. He was about a year late. He loved his car and was comfortable with it, and he had a personal challenge to get the odometer to 250,000 miles. But the car started to rattle and shake during the last few months of its life. Of course I urged him to replace it, but he dug in. It wasn’t until the mechanic called and said “It’s time, the car is no longer safe.” Now of course he loves his new car, loves that there are no squeaks or rattles, and can’t believe he waited so long.

We are all like this. We get into a comfort zone and don’t want to change or move on-so much so -that we minimize problems. Our aging parents are no different. When we observe their situation it may be obvious that there are safety concerns. But when we try to address them they may say things like “I’m fine,” or “I’m not ready,” or “I don’t’ want to talk about it.”

This leaves adult children feeling baffled. I often hear questions like “What should I say if a parent says they are not ready, or does not share the concern, or does not want to move?” Or any number of similar questions. Bottom line, what should I say?

And it hit me — how many times have I advised that you start the conversation but have not talked much about how to do it? So I thought I might teach you a few coaching tips. I am a certified wellness coach and have used coaching techniques in my personal as well as professional life. They are simple but not always easy.

I will take a couple of blogs to talk about this topic. But let’s start with a basic idea. Every behavior change carries with it some degree of ambivalence. We can make both sides of the argument. Depending on where we are in our readiness to change we may say things like, “I know I need to (insert needed change), but I don’t know how, don’t want to, don’t have time, don’t think I can afford it, am not ready — you name the objection.”

Now imagine you are an adult child of a parent who you know needs to make a change. The temptation is to go at it head on and tell them what you think would be best. In other words you make the “good side” of the argument. This is a well-meaning approach but is often counterproductive because the tendency will be for the parent to make the “bad side” of the argument. It goes like this:

Adult child: “Mom/Dad we need to talk about making a change in your situation. I am concerned for your safety and think we should look at senior living.”

Parent: “Well maybe we will need that someday but I am doing fine. I am not ready.”

What has just happened is that the parent has reinforced their reasons for not making a change by saying them out loud. And, we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say out loud.

The remedy here is to resist the temptation to tell the parent what you think needs to happen-tough as it is-and instead to make statements and ask questions that lead them to “change talk”.

Alternative approach: “Mom/Dad, when you fell last week it really scared me. How are you feeling about what happened?”

Parent: “Well, I don’t know — I guess it was a little scary. It was a good thing Joey stopped by. But, I am fine now.”

Here you ask an open ended question to get them talking about the situation. Then you can continue to make reflective statements and ask questions to lead the discussion forward.

Here is your homework for this week: Instead of telling someone what you think they should do, ask an open-ended question. An open ended question is one that does not have a yes or no answer. You will be amazed at how often people will come up with their own answer.

Next week: more coaching tips to help you steer these conversations.

Be Well on Purpose


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