How to Negotiate With Your Elders

By Valerie
April 30, 2010


One of my favourite cartoons shows a man lying down on a couch in a therapist’s office. The therapist is taking notes. The man says to the therapist, “I love my Dad but he is really difficult to talk to. By the way, are you going to bill me full price for this session, Dad?”

Figuring out how to talk to your elders so they will listen is a common challenge for families.

If you are going to battle with your aging loved one, it’s likely because you have some concern about their health, wealth or living arrangement. The battle part comes usually due to a difference of opinion over what your parent does versus what you think they should do.

Perhaps you feel your Mom can’t handle living on her own but she insists she can. Or you are worried about your great-aunt’s driving ability and she doesn’t want to make any concessions.

It’s likely that even though you may think your parents are being unreasonable, strong-willed or ignoring your concerns, they are in fact still capable of making their own decisions.

The exception is when your aging loved one lacks the mental capacity due to dementia or other disease, in which case you may wish to consult with a psychogeriatrician to lend further guidance on how best to support and care for them.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, “In any conversation you have with your loved ones, the best message you can send is one of concern, support and respect even if you don’t agree with their choices.”

Easier said than done!

The reality is you may feel bewildered, frustrated, out of your depth or an increase in heart palpitations as stress levels skyrocket.

There is one thing most experts agree on — imposing your way of thinking will yield undesirable results. In not so diplomatic terms, you’ll tick off your loved ones and they’ll either stop talking to you altogether or dig their heels in further. If they do comply with your wishes it may cause bitterness, resentment or complete dependence on you and other family members.

The first step to openly discuss touchy subjects is to learn about your aging loved one’s feelings related to aging, as well as their wishes and desires, as they move forward.

Here are a few ideas or statements to get you started:

• Mom, Dad, how would you know when it’s time to have more help? Or how would you know when it’s time to talk about needing more help as a family?

• Have you made any long-term plans? If yes, could you share those plans with us?

• Would you like to remain in your own home with assistance? If yes, would you prefer family or paid caregivers?

• Which family members do you want to assist with long-term care issues? How much help do you want from us?

• Have you taken steps in the area of health care and financial planning (e.g. long-term health-care insurance, advanced health-care directive including a DRN [do not resuscitate], power of attorney)?

• Do you have any pressing health concerns and what medications are you taking?
Remember, just because you haven’t reached an agreement at the end of round one doesn’t mean the conversation wasn’t productive.

Each time you broach a topic, you are allowing everyone to clarify their wishes, needs and concerns. Your aging loved one hears your concerns and it opens the door for future conversations when something changes down the road.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC