Communication Tips for Adult Children and Seniors
You're concerned about your parents, but they say they don't need help...
You want to make sure that your parents are well cared for. They've spent their lives taking care of you, now it's your turn to care for them. But what should you do if your parents don't think they need help?
"If you encounter resistance then take a deep breath and stop pushing," says Steve Barlam, chief professional officer at LivHOME. "Instead, strategize with an outside source." Barlam recommends getting some feedback from a third party to ensure that there truly is an issue. "Sometimes families think their emergency is a 9 out of 10, when it is really a 4 out of 10," Barlam says. In many cases "action will need to be taken, but maybe not at this moment."
When you encounter resistance, continue to revisit the topic consistently - don't just drop the issue. Be consistent and address the topic in a way that shows your parents that the concern is coming from your compassion and care towards them. "You can do this by acknowledging their feelings and the difficult situation, and then addressing your concerns," advises Barlam.
Bring your siblings on board
In many families, one sibling takes on the role of caregiver, but is this the best approach? "A lot of folks out there do it on their own, one adult child is identified as the 'doer'. There are dynamics and issues that perpetuate the model of one primary sibling as caregiver, which is not the most effective way to provide support to a senior," says Barlam.
Getting the entire family involved can help reduce family caregiver burnout and stress. "Don't do it alone. In our society independence is valued, but it's really all about being interdependent - learning to give and take. Family members caring for a senior need to think 'how can I provide support and engage my siblings' support?'," Barlam advises.
When it comes to getting the family on the same page, it's important to use consistent communication. Barlam recommends email, video conferencing and phone calls. With larger families, consider doing conference calls on a regular, monthly basis so everyone can hear each other and the tone of conversation is not lost (a danger when using only email).
For families living far away
How can you help your siblings provide care for your parents when you live in another city, province or country? "Each family member has unique gifts and in different ways can provide support and care," Barlam says. For siblings who are experienced with legal or financial issues, the primary caregiver can send such documents to them to take care of, no matter where they live.
For siblings who are naturally compassionate and social, they can check-in regularly with the parent as an additional touch point. Video conferencing is a great way to do this because you can see the expression and appearance of your parents, which will help you determine how they are doing.
"At LivHOME we put tablets in all of our clients homes because we want to encourage videoconferences with family and also supervise our caregivers better," Barlam says. "If you're in close contact you need to then pay attention to see if there are any changes in appearance, personality, attitude or energy level. Or perhaps there is no change and your parent is stable - acting as they always have."
Determine how you are best able to help, and offer those skills, even if you live far away from the rest of your family. "It's important to figure out what you have to offer and offer it up. If you are the main caregiver think about what your siblings can offer and know to ask them for that help," Barlam says.
For in-laws and stepchildren
If you are an in-law or stepchild, then you bring a fresh perspective and objectivity to the family. But tread carefully. "Families have unwritten rules and their own culture," Barlam advises. "Be respectful of how the family is used to interacting. When a senior family member is compromised things need to change, but that can be difficult for the family to deal with. Be respectful of the current family dynamics."
If you have suggestions be sensitive, tactful and respectful. Whether your ideas and opinions are embraced or disregarded, don't take it personally. Remember that change is difficult.
What if you're an only child?
"For adult children faced with a crisis like the fall, illness or dementia of a parent, they are forced to realize that the parent role is challenged and need to rely on a support network to help them through this crisis," Barlam says.
There are a number of formal and informal networks of support when it comes to caring for a senior. Informal networks, like family and siblings may not be available, especially if you are an only child, but there are a number of formal support networks that an only child can take advantage of, including:
- The legal community/estate planning
- The financial community
- Geriatric care managers, specialists or elder care managers - this is a new professional movement involved in helping families navigate through a complex medical, legal and financial system surrounding senior care.
Ultimately, when it comes to ensuring that your parents are happy and well-cared for, it "really comes down to needing reassurance that you are doing the right thing and getting the right support," says Barlam. "The more contact you have, the more apparent this will be."
Written by Kimberley Fowler, Comfort Life