How to discuss signs of aging with your parents

Holiday Health Check: Signs of Aging and Conversations about Assisted Living

Holiday gatherings are a wonderful time for catching up with family, eating delicious food and creating more meaningful memories together. These festivities also provide opportunities for gathering information about how older family members are doing. During the holidays, as we visit aging parents, we may notice some signs of slowing and wonder if assisted living is the right option. To help, the following offers some signs of aging to look for, as well as tips on how to approach conversations around assisted living or other types of caregiving support if it is time to do so.

Looking for Signs of Aging

While some people have the opportunity to check in on older loved ones regularly, others may rely on holiday gatherings or extended visits during these seasonal celebrations to understand a senior parent’s health and wellness reality. While the age varies as to when senior living may be the next best step for someone or more comprehensive care is needed, most older individuals and those who love them are likely to have these talks at some point. During this holiday season, reflecting on these three questions oriented around signs of aging may help you determine if the time has come for such an important discussion.

  • Do you note any physical changes? If they are still bringing out the turkey or hanging the lights, observe how stable they are in terms of mobility or the strength they exhibit in related movements. Note if tasks like opening the creamer container appear more difficult or if walking up even just a few stairs leaves them winded. From changes in weight loss to the cleanliness of their clothes, their personal appearance may also reveal whether or not basic daily tasks such as cooking or bathing are becoming challenging.
  • How is their behavior or mood? Holidays are typically the most cherished of times, especially as people become older and may not be socializing as regularly as they once were. If they are interacting less or seem more disinterested in activities that typically bring them joy, they may be struggling with loneliness or depression. Changes in their housekeeping practices, as well as personal hygiene, can also reveal insight into their emotional state of being or mental clarity.
  • Are there increasing indications of confusion or memory challenges? In addition to alterations in personal appearance and shifts in interior and exterior home maintenance, be attentive to memory lapses in taking medications and attending appointments or knowing who people are and general details about their lives. If the same information, question or story is repeated more than once during a single conversation, consider how frequently this confusion or forgetfulness occurs and its potential connection to other challenges or concerns.

How to Approach Conversations about Assisted Living

When older adults acknowledge the need for additional health and wellness support or express their readiness for a retirement community, having conversations around senior living options, like independent living or assisted living, may happen somewhat naturally. However, with others, these discussions may be met with greater resistance. Here are some tips to aid in approaching these conversations:

  1. Mindfully choose a time and location to talk. 

While your concern may be overflowing by the time you take your seat for a holiday meal, proclaiming your concerns in front of family friends will likely embarrass and upset your family member. Instead, make time to talk when it is convenient and comfortable for you both and less likely to be interrupted by anyone from the snowblowing neighbor to that enthusiastic grandchild.

  1. Express compassion, concern and specific observations.

Love can lead to passionate discourse when it comes to the well-being of those you care about so deeply. However, this approach may sometimes seem accusatory or inadvertently put the other person on the defensive. Instead, show your attentive care by sharing your specific observations using “I” statements. For example, exchange “you had a hard time even going up the steps” for “I noticed that going up to your bedroom seemed to be difficult. I’m worried about your safety.”

  1. Actively listen to your loved ones and include them in the conversation.

Out of concern for their safety or your own emotions about the changes you see in them, it can be tempting to just jump right in and try to gain control of their wellness and circumstances. However, this action may lead senior adults to feel disrespected and to believe that their own power and agency is being threatened. Instead, as an alternative to #2 or in addition to it, starting a discussion with open-ended questions about health, emotional well-being, safety etc. may provide you with additional information and help these individuals arrive on your shared page about the need for supportive care. By collaborating instead of dictating, exploring changes in living environments can become opportunities instead of seeming like punishments or dismissals.

  1. Emphasize the benefits!

Planning ahead for conversations about assisted living facilities or additional caregiving services is preferable to having them happen in the midst of or soon after any health scares. Since older adults are experiencing the often scary and exhausting nature of being ill or in the hospital, having conversations now about moving into a senior living community can be perceived as a way to reduce any inconvenience or burden on younger family members associated with a senior’s increased health concerns. Instead, more relaxed conversations provide the space to emphasize the positives like a senior care facility’s services and amenities or social calendar of community events. This approach also lends itself to more opportunity for older family members to process potential living transitions instead of having to rush decisions out of medical necessity or circumstances.

If reflecting on your holiday interactions has illuminated signs of aging in your older family members, it is time to start conversations about assisted living. In addition to the above tips, the care team at Arbors of Hop Brook can be meaningful collaborators in these discussions. Together, we can help your parents or other senior family members find a community that aligns with their vision for their lives today and in the years to come. To this end, our continuing care retirement community includes options for independent and assisted living, as well as long-term care and rehabilitation. For assistance with sensitive discussions and support for their health and well-being in the future, contact Arbors of Hop Brook today.