Before you start
Just because you’ve noticed a loved one is finding some day-to-day tasks difficult, doesn’t necessarily mean other members of your family have. Again, it’s not uncommon for people to have different opinions of when and where extra help is needed – especially when that help is coming from professional caregivers outside of the family.
It can be easy to get riled up when someone seems to reject your plans out of hand. So, before starting a later life care discussion, think about why other family members might object to the type of care you’re suggesting. If they’re currently the primary family caregiver perhaps they might find the suggestion a slight on their efforts? If you are doing most the caregiving yourself, they may not realise the full extent of the caregiver burden, or that over time caregiver stress may impact your relationship with the care recipient, making proper care planning and breaks from your caregiving responsibilities even more important.
If a family member lives far away and are not able to spend as much quality time with your loved-one, they may not realise what it’s like for them day-to-day, or be ready to accept that their needs are changing – especially if the last time they saw them they were fairly well and independent. They may even refuse your suggestion because of underlying feelings of guilt at not being around as much as they’d like.
How do I start a care conversation with my family?
Prepare thoroughly – Make sure you know what you’re going to say beforehand. Take ideas from how past serious conversations have gone with the family members you’re planning on talking to.
Be Positive – Preparing for the worst will more likely make you nervous and react negatively when having the conversation. Focus on the positive outcomes that could happen from the conversation.
Ensure the time and place are right – Arrange the conversation with the family member/s beforehand. So they’re not distracted by other commitments or in a disruptive environment. Avoid significant family events and places with alcohol.
Set a specific time frame – If you’re worried about a difficult conversation going of track, this can aid its progress and effectiveness. For instance, allotting an hour for discussion and allowing for an extension, if necessary.
Decide terms and boundaries beforehand – Agree on how to keep the conversation positive and what behaviours or reactions will end the conversation. For example, agree that to keep the discussion constructive and ongoing, there will be no shouting, personal attacks or interrupting.
Ask the right questions
Come with a list of questions you might want to ask or that you feel will be relevant – make sure they’re open questions that allow the other people in the conversation to explore the possibilities rather than feeling like they’re forced into answering in a certain way, or need to make decisions immediately. For example, if you’re talking to a person who needs or will need care, ask them questions such as how they hope they’ll be able to keep some normality to their everyday life when getting care, or what care providers they would like to use.
Listen to understand, not to respond
Make sure you’re giving yourself space to really listen to what your family members are saying. It’s all too easy to be thinking about your own counterargument instead of making an effort to understand someone else’s point of view.
Be sure to give your full attention. Ask follow-up questions and if you don’t agree with something, make a note to revisit it later once everyone has had a chance to have their say.
Taking care to listen actively is an influential behaviour. The more you do it, the more people will return the favour when it’s your turn to speak.
Keep an open mind
Difficult conversations are always more successful when you’re open to learning something new.
Later life care is a complex and emotive topic. Even after hours of research you and your family members are unlikely to know everything. This means there’s a lot of room for different perspectives and ideas. There’s no shame in questioning your assumptions, admitting you don’t have an answer, or changing your mind.
Always ask for clarification if something doesn’t sound right to you. Misunderstandings can often stem from the way something has been worded, or from just assuming you know what someone means.
Discuss real-life scenarios
Whenever you’re talking through the benefits of getting support, it’s important to be as specific as possible. Give real-life examples of when or where a carer could add additional peace of mind or improve certain aspects of your daily lives. Tailor examples to your loved one, and highlight the positive impact professional care will have on each family member too.
Shifting a hypothetical situation into a real one can bring an argument back to a discussion. It can help everyone effectively illustrate their point, and prevent things like blanket statements and statistics someone’s seen in the paper from taking over the conversation.
Look for common ground
If you find yourself stuck debating the same point over and over, refocus the conversation on what you agree on.
Perhaps you’ve all noticed that your loved one isn’t getting out of the house as much as they used to. Or, you may all believe that they’ll be most comfortable at home, even if you’re unsure how to make this happen in the current situation.
Even when you hold different opinions, a shared value or hope is a welcome reminder that you’re ultimately working towards the same thing.
Wrap up on a positive
If you don’t all completely agree by the end of a conversation, that’s ok. End every family discussion by reflecting on the positive aspects – such as any points you have agreed on, or something you’ve learned from it. If something was raised that you’d not considered before, let your family know that you’ll look into it before the next conversation.
These actions will help you start the next discussion on a positive note too.
If things have become a little heated, don’t be afraid to pause the discussion. You may find it best to leave it a few days or weeks so that family members have time to process their concerns and feel prepared to discuss them.
For more tips and advice, read our article here by Zoe Feldwick, an Integrative Therapeutic Counsellor, on establishing healthy communication and discussing difficult later-life topics with family.
What other support is available?
If you’re worried about a potentially challenging situation, talking to a professional therapist can help you prepare for a health and honest discussion. They can provide you with techniques you can apply to set boundaries, cope with challenging subjects, and practice self-awareness. Mind has several resources and information on how to best get support with mental health in the UK and steps to finding the support, while BACP can help you find the right counsellor or therapist for your needs.
If the person needing care is happy to do so, request a care assessment from your local council. A social worker will conduct a thorough evaluation to give your loved one a clear picture of the type of long-term care they need. They will help your loved one come to terms with their needs changing and involve them in the care planning process from the outset. Read more in our guide here on how to get support with care from your local council or authority.
Give an Elder Care Advisor a call
If you’re really struggling to see eye to eye, having an impartial expert involved may help bring some clarity. At Elder our specialists are experienced in supporting different family members – whether providing practical advice or offering a listening ear when things get tough.
You can reach us for a no-obligation chat by calling the number at the top of this page, or by booking a call at a time that suits you.
The power of psychotherapy in later life: An interview with Dr Liz Forbat and Lorraine-Davies Smith
Getting the support and assistance of a professional family therapist can be an extremely effective way of bringing the family together to talk and listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings. It can be an extremely useful tool when coming to the realisation that a loved one in the family needs the support of a carer.
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