If you've noticed your parent or elderly relative is becoming less able to cope in their own home it might be time to suggest some outside help. Adam Pike from SuperCarers gives some advice on how to successfully broach the subject
Nobody wants to have 'the conversation': the one in which you have to talk to your elderly parent - or both parents, or other loved ones - about accepting some extra help and care.
The idea that they have a growing need for support in their home can be a hard topic to broach - but if you have noticed that, say, your elderly parent is less able to cope and is struggling to manage their health or their home, it is an important conversation to have.
It may even be dangerous for them not to have care support, especially if they are at risk of falls, or are unable to cook food for themselves anymore.
Having the conversation is not about trying to force anyone to do something they don't want to do, it's about helping them realise that the time might have come to consider an alternative way of doing things.
Preparing for the conversation
Before having the conversation, it is a good idea to do some research on the care options that are available to you. If the current set-up really must change, accepting some help in the home may well be preferable - for everyone concerned - to them having to leave their home to live in an assisted living facility or care home. There are pros and cons to each possibility. You may simply want to suggest a professional carer will visit to help with household tasks or personal care. Certainly though, if at-home options are no longer viable, you may want to discuss options for assisted living or a care home.
Each of these care options will have a different impact on your loved one’s life – and your parent may well have already given the matter some thought, just like you have, and may have better ideas than you about what would suit them best. It’s, therefore, a good idea to always keep an open mind when talking about potential care options.
It may also help you to involve other members of the family or close friends. Discuss your worries with them: they may have had similar experiences themselves, and may be able to help you to source useful information. Plus, they may be able to offer an impartial point of view on the mater, especially in cases where they are less emotionally involved than you.
Broaching the subject
If you are ready to introduce the subject, do give some thought as to the right time to do it. First of all, the environment in which the conversation takes place can have a big impact. Try to talk with your relative in person rather than over the phone, make sure everybody is sitting comfortably, and turn off distractions like the TV or radio. Your attitude and tone are important factors too - so be sure to treat your elderly parents like the adults that they are.
Even when they are losing their memory to dementia, or are struggling with physical pain and disability, they have needs and desires, as well as a right to have a say in how their lives are run. Remember, then that it should be a two-way conversation, not a monologue on your part. Ask you relative what they want, and take that into consideration rather than dismissing it out of hand, even if it does not match what you had imagined.
Explain your concerns slowly and clearly, and put yourself in your parents' shoes as you talk. You want them to understand what you are saying and why you are saying it. Be reassuring when you can, and truly listen to what they have to say. Don't interrupt them when they respond or contradict them unnecessarily. It may be an awkward and difficult conversation, especially if they are resistant to the idea of getting help, but taking it slowly and always listening respectfully will help.
Selling the idea
In our experience, personalised, high-quality care can have a truly positive impact on an elderly person's life: it can empower them to keep their routine, pursue their lifelong passions and hobbies, and preserve their independence. These are some of the 'selling points' you can touch on when talking about the benefits of getting care:
"You'll keep your independence" Accepting care is not 'giving in'. It doesn't mean that your relative will lose their independence. If anything, care will enable them to preserve their independence and to stay in their home in a way that, without care, would not be manageable. Having support around the house and around their everyday tasks can even be liberating.
"Someone who's there in an emergency" Be factual, for instance reminding them of the times they have fallen over, or mentioning the time they left the stove on before they went to bed. You don't want to embarrass them, but you do need to stress why you believe assistance has become vital for them. Explain how a carer can help them feel safe in the knowledge that there's always someone ready to help in case of an emergency.
"An extra pair of hands to help" The idea of somebody coming in to 'look after you' can seem intimidating - even humiliating. Yet the idea of someone to help with some housekeeping might seem acceptable - an extra pair of hands. This is doable when somebody is well enough to live independently and doesn't have a serious health or memory condition - and can then be built up over time if needed.
"It's worked really well for others" Your parents own friends - or the parents of friends of yours - may well have been in a similar position, and have accepted care support: it's a good idea to mention the benefits those friends have experienced.
"A friendly face to chat with" For many elderly people, having a chat with a carer - irrespective of their age or background - can be a breath of fresh air that really cheers up their day.
You may need to have 'the conversation' a few times - it is, after all, an important decision and talking to ageing parents about changes is not always straightforward. Sometimes they will refuse the idea of care support altogether. If they do, then be sure to ask why? If you can understand their objections and anxieties, you may be able to provide reassurance or counter their arguments.
You may need to explain to them that their condition is deteriorating and that it is becoming dangerous for them to have no support. They may want to talk to their GP or practice nurse about their situation, and also get their advice on whether they should be home alone. They may also want to get the opinions of other family members or friends; sometimes hearing the same thing from several people who all have your best interests at heart can be more convincing and reassuring.
If you do agree that you need to find care, then do involve your parent in every step of any process, including choosing their own carer if possible. This way, they'll feel they're in control of the situation, and they'll be more willing to consider different options.
Some people find that introducing the idea gradually is the most effective approach. So, perhaps, start by saying how helpful it would be to have somebody come in to help them to prepare lunch every day, and build up to conversations about personal care at a later stage.
A trial period can be a really effective way of testing out home care. One way of doing this is to arrange it for when you - or other family carers - go on holiday for a week or two and temporary professional care, often referred to as respite care, needs to be put in place.
Above all, however, and whenever the time comes to discuss the situation, do try and give your elderly parent or relative adequate time to think.
None of us likes to admit that we are getting older, and although this is a very important decision, your parent or elderly relative may take a little while longer to come to the same conclusion as you.