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How to initiate family discussions


September 27, 2012
I am often asked, "How do I initiate a conversation with my parents to address the concerns that I have"? This is not an easy thing to do, but it must be done if you are concerned for a loved one's safety and well-being.

1. Start discussions early. Often we only deal with these issues in the midst of a health crisis, and this is not the most ideal time for planning. Take the opportunity to talk when your loved one's are in good health.

2. Include all family members. Make sure that everyone is on the same page in understanding what your loved ones wishes and goals are. When certain family members are excluded from the process it can lead to difficulties in the future when decisions need to be carried out.

3. Explain your purpose for initiating the conversation. Make sure that your older loved ones know you want to work with them to make sure their goals and wishes are carried out, and that you want them to be involved and do the right thing for them in the future if needed.

4. Understand that they control their own life. It is extremely important to understand that they have the right to make their own decisions, whether you fully agree with them or not. There may be instances when you have to balance independence with safety issues, but give them choices rather than telling them what "you" want to do.

5. Agree to disagree. Their wishes should prevail unless their health or safety is in jeopardy.

6. Communicate effectively. Offer options and not advice. Ask for their input and ideas. Use open-ended questions rather than "yes" or "no" questions. Talk to them, not at them.

7. Ask about their records and documentation. Know where important papers are. Make sure that a family member has access to all relevant records in case of an emergency.

8. Provide information. Give them options and have resources on hand to share, and help them navigate their way through this information.

9. Reevaluate if necessary. If you find the conversation is not going well then take a step back and assess what is wrong. Is it your approach? Do you have adequate information to answer their questions? Is it poor timing? Would a neutral party be beneficial to include in the conversation?

10. Always be respectful. Treat your loved ones with love and respect and assure them that you will be there for them through the process. As we age, we are faced with many losses. Make sure they have your support during this time of their lives.

Discussing your concerns with your loved one is never an easy thing to do.

However, when their safety is in jeopardy these difficult things must be addressed. If they will not agree to any changes in their situation and you are worried about their safety, you must take action.

You can be firm about the necessity for action, but still give them options so that they are in charge of the final decision.

Terri Murphy is a Certified Senior Advisor and the owner of Home Helpers, a Non-Medical Home Care Business. She lives in Grosse Pointe. She can be reached by telephone at (313) 881-4600 or send e-mails to tmurphy572 @comcast.net. Home Helpers website is home


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