HOW TO DISCUSS DIFFICULT ISSUES conversation with aging parent

The truth is that not all families are as tightly knit as we would wish them to be, especially when it comes to talking about truly thorny subjects. Parents and children may have struggled with communication in the past, but "if a foundation for cooperation doesn’t exist already, it's crucial to establish one now," notes AARP's eldercare guide. Sometimes one sibling may have a closer relationship to a parent, and may have an easier time initiating a discussion.

Experts advise that adult children start an ongoing conversation with their parents – about retirement, senior living, health care and end-of-life issues – when they're still relatively young and healthy. With so many topics to tackle, and so many emotionally charged issues, it is never a good idea to try to wrestle with them all at once. Most important are opening the lines of communication, creating a positive tone for the interaction and having everyone understand that the discussions should continue.

Several strategies help keep dialogue from freezing up. Pick a calm time when the discussion won't be interrupted. Try not to be judgmental – focus on hearing the elders' concerns, and allaying their fears whenever possible. Ask open-ended queries to solicit as much information as possible, but don't grill them with an endless list of questions.

Respect elders' sense of vulnerability, and return to touchy topics later if they seem uncomfortable. But focus on critical safety related issues as soon as they arise, and pursue these firmly.

Some resistance is natural. Addressing sensitive areas, such as finances or personal care, requires both finesse and compassion. Sometimes it actually helps to bring in a neutral (but trusted) outsider to mediate the discussion of specific issues – a clergy person, doctor, lawyer or counselor, for example. Make clear that the point of discussing these issues on a frequent basis is not to invade your parents' privacy or to control their lives. The goal is to make sure that they continue to live as they wish – as freely and independently as possible, safe and happy and well cared for, in the manner that makes them feel comfortable, this will allow the entire family to live more worry-free as well.

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