It can be challenging to talk about changes in health, independence and living situation, but as the holidays approach many of us will be venturing into these topics. Here are seven tips that will help you engage those conversations in a healthy way this holiday season.
TIP #1 Get the conversation moving
The best time to start the conversation? During a walk. When our bodies are moving, it’s easier to think with clarity, and the activity diverts the mind from the seriousness of the topic. If a walk isn’t possible, consider driving—often, the freedom of not looking at someone while taking takes the sting out of emotionally challenging conversations. The first discussion doesn’t have to be serious or long. You can simply ask, “Have you given any thought to what your next step will be?”
TIP #2 Discover, don’t smother
Make it collaborative and respectful. Brainstorm. Be curious. Be neutral. Ask a lot of questions. Find out what they want, fear, know or don’t know. Rather than an attempt to find a solution or answer, consider it as a process of discovery done together so that you can lay the foundation for a joint journey that is neither threatening nor intimidating.
Tip #3 Watch your language
Be careful with what you say. Try and use more “I think…”, rather than “You should….” Use phrases like: “What are your thoughts?” “How do you feel about that?” “What would you like to do?”
Tip #4 Ask open-ended questions
Ask questions that generate discussion rather than “yes” or “no” answers. Avoid close-ended questions (those that can be answered with a straight yes or no). Ask questions that require thought and explanation. You’ll learn more about what is really important.
Tip #5 Learn body language
Emotions may be running high, and there may be fears. But the body is very telling. Watch for body signals like averted eyes, frowns, crossed arms or legs, or a stance that is turned away. If you identify these signals in yourself or your loved one, take a few moments to diffuse the situation with laughter, deep breathing, a change of scenery, or even a change of topic.
Tip #6 Play the Movie Forward
Painting a picture of the future can be helpful to move the conversation forward. Use some ‘what-if’ scenarios to identify future challenges. Whether it’s a physical illness, mental illness, a fall, a death or a financial challenge, an accident, raising each of these what-ifs can be very difficult. Using reassurance about the present can help: “It’s so wonderful you are still in great health. But what if that changes? Do you have any ideas?”
Tip #7 Know the Options
Educate yourself about independent living vs. assisted living vs. long-term care vs home care. Know what the options are in your neighbourhood. Talk to people. Ask questions. Take tours of different seniors living communities. And when you present the information, do so in an unbiased, informative way that outlines the choices, the pros and cons and the possible “next steps.”
“What do you think?” “How are you feeling about all this?” “How does that sound to you?” These are all examples of respectful statements that enable those you’re speaking with to maintain dignity through the conversation.
No matter what transpires, getting the conversation started is a big step. Congratulate yourself for that accomplishment, and remember that the next conversation will be much easier.