Having Difficult Conversations

By Family Caregivers' Network Society

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One challenge of caregiving is taking time to have those difficult conversations with your family member or friend about what type of care they want, what happens if they can no longer safely live in their own home, when it may be time for them to give up driving or if they have prepared their will, Power of Attorney and Representation Agreement. These conversations can stir up emotions in everyone involved as they compel us to put into words and discuss directly changes in health and independence.

Ideally, the best time to have these conversations is before a crisis or change in health or cognitive ability occurs. Although it may feel difficult to approach such a discussion, chances are these concerns are on everyone’s mind. Someone needs to take the plunge and initiate the talk. These are sensitive topics and can trigger strong emotions around mortality, loss of independence, fear of the unknown, feelings of helplessness and grief. Your family member could respond with defensiveness or denial, which may reflect their fear or embarrassment.  

It is important to treat your family members like the adults they are and remember this is their life being discussed. Approach it like a conversation, rather than as a directive. Stay open to what they have to say instead of telling them what they need to do. Once you introduce the topic and share your concerns, allow them an opportunity to speak. Listening is essential here. Ask questions to see if their concerns are the same as yours, and if they have other concerns as well. How would they like to see these resolved?

They may need some time to think about the issue. So, once you broach the subject, set up a time to come back to it later, after they have processed it. An initial refusal to listen or talk fueled by defensiveness or fear is normal. Once your family member has had time to consider your concerns, those initial feelings may diminish. Reaching final decisions could take several conversations.

Discuss one issue at a time; some people start with the most urgent. If you anticipate significant resistance, you may want to start with the easiest or least impactful concern first so it is less threatening.

Put yourself in their shoes. How would you like to be approached on these topics and how would you feel if your life was changing in similar ways? What meaning could be behind their reaction? Everyone involved in the conversation has a story they tell themselves about what is happening and how it will impact them. Consider how your own personal point of view and what you want to see happen influences how you approach the conversation and perhaps pushes your own agenda. Others can usually pick up when we have a personal agenda and this is often met with resistance.

For other tips on having difficult conversation, visit www.havingtheconversation.com/How-to-best-get-started.html or www.caregiverstress.com/family-communication/40-70/communication-tips or www.thehartford.com/mature-market-excellence/family-conversations-with-older-drivers

Next month: Holiday Giving



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