Family & Caregivers

How to Talk to Loved Ones about Aging Safely

March 13, 2022
How to Talk to Loved Ones about Aging Safely
An older man holds his grandchild
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

You want to make sure your loved ones stay safe as they age, but they don’t want to leave their home. What do you do?

Over the holidays, you may have noticed some changes in your loved one’s functioning. Maybe they forgot to turn off the stove while cooking Christmas dinner, stumbled while carrying their laundry up the stairs, or missed a stop sign while driving in the snow. You didn’t want to cause any tension during the celebration, so you let it go, but you’ve been worrying about them ever since. 

Now, what should you do? A conversation about planning for your loved one’s aging process can seem like a nightmare. In a culture that rarely discusses aging, talking about your loved one’s physical or cognitive decline can make them feel vulnerable, insecure, and defensive. And if you know they’ll insist on remaining independent and staying in their home, the situation can feel even more daunting. 

With the anticipation of awkwardness and conflict, it can seem easier to put off the conversation until things get more serious. However, it’s better to initiate discussions about aging early so you can prevent accidents or emergencies while minimizing financial and emotional strain on your loved one. Luckily, there are some simple strategies you can use to have a smooth, collaborative, and hopeful conversation with your loved one about their future. 

1. Remember that it’s their decision

When discussing plans with older adults, it's essential that they are the decision maker. It’s their life that you’re discussing, so as long as they have healthy cognitive functioning, it’s up to them what they do. If you enter into the conversation with a list of demands and are unwilling to find compromises, you won’t make any progress. 

Instead, you need to begin the conversation by asking your loved one what they want. What matters to them? What’s a priority for them as they age? Then, you can frame the conversation around what you can do to support them in that effort. In doing so, the conversation transforms from a conflict between two parties who want different things towards a collaborative effort to ensure they are taking the necessary precautions to remain independent and live the way they please.

Older adults prefer to age at home

One common priority for older adults is staying at home as they age— 92% of older Americans would prefer to stay in their home rather than move to a facility. This can be hard for family members to accept, because, while moving to senior living seems like a catch-all solution, staying at home requires coordinating more personalized services. 

While aging in place can be challenging, it’s reasonable for your loved one to insist on staying in their home. There are significant mental and physical benefits that come with remaining at home as they age that can make the extra effort worthwhile. 

So, if your loved one wants to stay at home, avoid beginning the conversation about their future with negative demands like “we’re going to move you,” “we’re going to take your keys,” or “you can’t live alone.” When initiating the conversation, start by accepting and acknowledging that they are the decision maker. If they want to stay at home, then you’ll work with them to try to make that possible. 

2. Start small

To ease everyone’s anxiety around addressing your loved one’s aging process, remember that it doesn’t need to be a one-time conversation where you decide everything. Instead, come to the table prepared with two or three high priority concerns. Here’s how we recommend kicking things off: 

“Mom, you've made it really clear you want to remain at home. We want to support you and the quality of life you want. These are the two or three things that we're worried about. What are two or three things that you're worried about?”

Whether it be overall maintenance, lawn care, meal preparation, transportation, scam threat, fall risk, or any other issue, tackling just a few at a time will make problem solving manageable and prevent your loved one from feeling overwhelmed. The goal of this initial conversation is to begin the process of addressing issues one at a time. 

3. Find ways to get to yes

You want your loved one to accept the help you’re offering, but oftentimes their pride in their independence makes that challenging. Luckily, there are ways to frame the assistance in ways that allow them to maintain that pride, feel good, and want to say “yes.” 

Make it enjoyable

If they’re going to remain open to receiving assistance, it’s important that they have a positive experience. If a landscaper comes and butchers their lawn, for example, they’re never going to allow someone else to mow it in the future. So, in addition to doing your research around well-rated services, you can also get creative about what the help can look like. In addition to keeping them safe, the service should enhance the everyday experience for them, rather than worsen it. 

Say, for example, their ability to cook safely has been declining. Instead of encouraging them to just heat up frozen or canned food, they can instead receive a delivery service with ingredients that require minimal cooking. You could also hire a neighbor or someone from their church to deliver a meal. That would provide them with a home-cooked option that also strengthens their connection to their community. Finding enjoyable options can take creativity, but brainstorming together can lead to exciting solutions. 

Maintain their control 

Everyone has their own way they like things done in their home. Having a stranger enter their personal space and change their process can be irritating. If you hire a contractor, ask them if your loved one can still be involved in the process. To get them on board with changes around the house, you can say to your loved one:

“I know that the leaves in the gutters are bothering you, and I know you want to get up there. But this one time, will you let me hire someone? You can totally manage them, make sure that they do it right, and that they clean up. They promised that they’ll do it exactly how you tell them.”

By managing the project, your loved one stays safe while remaining in control over the process and continuing to contribute to the care of their home.

Frame it as a favor

It’s much easier for people to accept help when they know it’s benefiting someone else. If you’re currently assisting your loved one and having a hard time balancing everything, letting them know that you’re struggling can convince them to hire more help. Even just admitting you’re worried about them and it’s affecting your wellbeing could be what pushes them toward accepting support.

You can also flip the situation around and make it about them helping the person providing the service. For example, you could say:

“Hey, Dad, I just saw Johnny's mom down the street, and he's looking to earn some money for basketball camp. I know you really like to mow the lawn, but he was just so excited. Do you care if for the next four weeks we let him do it so we can support him?”

This perspective repositions your loved one away from being the recipient of support towards becoming the giver of support. Not only does this option preserve their independence and safety, it also provides them with the opportunity to be altruistic. Giving back is linked to lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and longer life, so supporting others can help sustain their life at home for years to come. 

Bring in a third party 

If you’re still struggling to convince your loved one to accept help in the home, you can bring in a trusted third party. If your loved one is your parent, they may be uncomfortable reversing roles and accepting guidance from you. 

Their doctor, on the other hand, is someone who they hopefully see often, trust, and are accustomed to asking for advice. You can talk to their clinical team, explain your concerns, and ask them to walk through the solutions during your loved one’s next doctor’s appointment. Religious leaders in their life (preachers, priests, rabbis, imams, etc.) are other authority figures they may trust for support. 

4. Look into affordable services

What happens if your loved one insists on staying at home, but they can’t afford all the services required to support their aging process? To access a wide range of community based services addressing the financial challenges of older adults, we suggest calling your local Area Agency on Aging

If your loved one owns their home, another option is to unlock the wealth they have tied into their home equity. With Truehold’s Sale-Leaseback, they can access 100% of their equity, in cash, so they can afford to cover a transportation service, landscaping, home healthcare, and more. The monthly rent will also cover property taxes, home insurance, and maintenance, so they won’t be losing money on the everyday costs of home ownership. 

If your loved one wants to stay at home, but you’re unsure how to cover the services they require to live there safely, reach out to a Truehold Advisor to see how we can help. We know it can be challenging to help your loved one stay at home. If that’s what matters to them, we want to help you make that possible.

While talking about your loved one’s aging process isn’t easy, it can lead them toward the safe future they need to keep doing the things they love. With their goals as your focus, and with these tips in mind, you’ll be able to find creative ways for your loved one to age safely and well.

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