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How to Talk to Resistant Parents

By Lee Nyberg, 9:00 am on

Resistant parents increase the challenge of having smooth conversations about future living plans, care needs, and financial and legal situations. Adult children often find themselves in a tight spot between their own sense of urgency to “fix” a situation and their parents’ apparent lack of concern. The two sides perceive things so differently. Older parents are probably well aware of statistics like 70 percent of adults 65 and older will need help at some point and may know the time for help has arrived. Adult children see the changes in their parents and may be concerned about keeping them safe. An older adult’s reluctance to ask for help and a fear of losing independence are compounded when an adult child charges in with a plan to take over.

Understand what your parent wants and how you can facilitate it.

If recent discussion attempts have been rebuffed, you may have to mend fences before you can get back to the key issues of long-term future planning. If your parent can safely live independently, trying to force the conversations will work against you.

Start by discussing a neutral, yet interesting topic.

Like your senior parent’s legacy. Here’s an example: “I drove past the Glenn Korff School of Music at UNL yesterday, and it made me think about the kind of legacy I want to leave. So far, I am most proud of the volunteer work I did with the Foodbank’s Backpack Program.  I learned firsthand how important it is to help kids in poverty have food on the weekends.  I need to find a way to volunteer again. What are you most proud of? What powerful lessons have you learned?”  Let the conversation flow without pressure and wait for another day to dig further.

Try the “good neighbor” approach.

A good neighbor will not try to takeover or tell a person what to do. Instead,he or she will point out a problem in a face-saving way. I once had a neighbor tell me about a very large and heavy tree branch in danger of falling onto our shared fence. I couldn’t see the break, but as soon as she pointed it out, I knew I needed to have the branch cut as soon as possible. To apply this to your parent, you could say, “I see you have the DNR (do not resuscitate) documents on your fridge. I have a medical history and current medication list in the bottom drawer of my nightstand in case someone needs to take me to the ER. My friend Susan’s recent trip to the emergency room with her dad brought home the importance of having that info available.  If you’re interested, I can give you the necessary forms I used to gather my info.”  Then let the conversation take its course, even if you parent changes the subject rather than accept your offer.

Future conversations can be generated when newspaper articles or other media bring topics to mind.  Last month, the local newspaper had an article on older adults and driving.  In addition to mentioning where a person can go for a driving evaluation, it also pointed to the psychological impact on a person due to losing access to car keys.  Such an article can open the door to many different discussion points. For example, “How would you handle this if it happened to you? Are you still comfortable driving at night?” Keep in mind you’re collecting impressions on your parent’s views, not telling him or her what to do.

If you sense a crisis is looming, be proactive.

This is especially important if you think you’ll have to either bring care into your parent’s home or move him or her to an assisted living facility within the next 3-6 months.  Check out information sources like the local Area Agency on Aging as a start. For families in Lincoln, it is Aging Partners, and in Omaha, it is the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging. Meet with a social worker or services manager for advice on your parent’s situation and lists of community resources that might apply, such as local in-home care and facility-based care providers. Then, talk to Omaha home care providers and tour assisted living facilities, gauging their differences and unique qualities. Be ready to present the information to your parent or family when the crisis arises or your help is requested. At the very least, you will know more about available options and your actions should help relieve some of the stress of uncertainty.

Since an adult child can’t force a parent to take action if the parent is legally competent, the best approach when faced with a resistant parent is to stay calm and patiently wait for opportunities for casual, yet meaningful, chats. As the situation changes, your negotiating position may improve and your parent’s stance may shift enough for the two of you to sort out the financial, legal and living questions.

By Lee Nyberg. Lee serves seniors and their families through her company, Home Care Assistance. Home Care Assistance is North America’s premier provider of in-home care for seniors. Our mission is to change the way the world ages. We provide older adults with quality care that enables them to live happier, healthier lives at home. Our services are distinguished by the caliber of our caregivers, the responsiveness of our staff and our expertise in Live-In care. We embrace a positive, balanced approach to aging centered on the evolving needs of older adults.