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Having difficult conversations as a caregiver, with Glacier Nurse Direct

by Kristy Naylor RN and Marcy Kleinjan RN
| February 22, 2023 12:00 AM

Happy February Everyone! This month we will briefly discuss 5 tips from an AARP article for having difficult caregiver conversations. Regardless of your specific caregiving situation, you’re likely to engage in many challenging conversations with those you care for, as well as with other family members. You’ll need to discuss topics like finances, legal issues, estate planning, living situations, care and treatment plans, safety and driving. These are sensitive subjects, and your perspectives or opinions may differ.

  1. Talk early and talk often. The more you’ve discussed and planned for the future, the easier it will be when it is time to make decisions. Talk early because it's easier to discuss matters when they are in the future or hypothetical, instead of imminent. Talk often because things change. Situations can shift due to alterations in health, finances or housing. Be aware of our loved ones’ current wishes and ensure that plans made years ago are still viable.

  2. Observe and do your homework. If you are suggesting changes, have you spent time gathering information to have the conversation. Are you worried about driving? Have a ride along. Concerned about safety? Spend a few days with them to make honest observations. Are they having trouble with stairs? Is the mail piling up? Are they able to prepare healthy meals? Talk with other friends to get a real sense of what is going on, and this is the hard part, be objective. If you plan to suggest changes, have solutions and alternatives at the ready.

  3. Approach with love, concern, and support. Remember we have a common goal: the best care possible for your loved one. Be clear that your concerns are motivated by love. Be sincere as they can see through a snow job from miles away. Our role as caregivers is always to support our loved ones — not to completely take over their lives. If you are caregiving for your parents, I urge you not to adopt the viewpoint that you are now parenting them. You may be in a more supportive role now, but our parents will always be our parents, and they will respond much better to a respectful, compassionate attitude.

  4. Communicate effectively. Ask for their input. It’s not a one-way conversation, so ask how they think they are doing and what adjustments they’ve thought about. Specific questions can be helpful, such as: “Do you have any worries or concerns?” It’s normal to want to avoid change, so tell them that you understand their feelings of reluctance, fear, anger or hopelessness, and that you want to help make change easier for them. Sometimes people just need acknowledgment that this is hard to deal with.

  5. Include key people in the conversation. Sometimes the right people at the table can make all the difference. It may be important to include a certain family member whom they listen to, or a respected adviser such as a lawyer, doctor, faith or community leader or friend. You might even consider an objective third party like a care manager, counselor, or a family or eldercare mediator to help facilitate the conversation. Approach these conversations with patience and realistic expectations — it might take several of them before you come to a mutual agreement and make decisions. Be open to solutions you hadn’t thought of, and make it as easy as possible for those you care for.

The bottom line being do your best to ensure they feel loved, supported, empowered and more in control of their lives — regardless of the decisions at hand.