We all want the best for the older adults in our lives. And getting help from outside sources often allows older adults to stay comfortable and independent. However, proposing outside assistance—such as help with transportation, chores, technology, or housing—can be tricky. After all, many older adults want to keep doing all of these things on their own or may be hesitant to accept change. Luckily, there are ways to make the conversation collaborative and constructive.
Here are five tips to help you make a “care conversation” a positive experience for you and your older adult.
1. Be proactive: Stay ahead of an older adult’s aging needs by discussing the idea of outside help before help is absolutely necessary. Prepare for your conversation in advance. Think about what kinds of things you are able to do for your older adult and where there are gaps. If possible, work with other family members and caregivers, so everyone is on the same page. Then, outline what you want to say, including challenges, possible solutions, and the benefits of outside help.
2. Be positive and collaborative: Start the conversation by acknowledging everything your older adult has done in the past and all of the things they still do well. Transition to talking about what activities they still enjoy, and which ones are getting more difficult. Then ask your older adult about their hopes, preferences, worries, and wishes. Share your hopes and fears, too. Work together to create shared goals for independent living, health, and well-being.
3. Highlight the advantages of having outside help: Discuss how outside help has many benefits, for example:
- Allowing the older adult to spend more time doing the things they want to do.
- Living independently for a longer amount of time.
- Increasing social interaction.
- Making the older adult feel safe and cared for.
4. Offer options (not advice) and listen carefully: Your older adult is still an adult with the right to make their own decisions—even if you disagree. Instead of telling the older adult what to do, provide clear options for what’s possible and help them choose what fits their lifestyle. If you have concerns, discuss them. But, ultimately, let the older adult make the choices.
Additionally, it helps to talk about one topic at a time. Talking about a variety of challenges or services at once can be overwhelming for older adults. For example, if getting to healthcare appointments is difficult, focus on that issue for a while. Describe any relevant outside services that help with transportation and explain the benefits clearly. If the service is free, low cost, or especially perfect for their situation, let the older adult know. These focused conversations will help you and your older adult choose what’s best for your specific situation.
5. Know the first conversation is the beginning of a journey: If there’s no immediate risk to health or safety, give your older adult take time to consider the options. It might take several conversations for them to warm up to the idea of outside help. To give your older adult more confidence in their decisions, you could propose trying an outside service once or twice to see if they like it. Or you could ask a trusted third party—like a doctor, friend, or spiritual leader—to join the conversation to add reassurance. Finally, set the expectation that this is an ongoing conversation. As your older adult’s needs evolve, you’ll need to revisit what services and support are most helpful regularly.
And, of course, keep it considerate. Having a conversation about outside help requires a delicate balance—ensuring the older adult feels in control while staying safe and healthy. When conducted with empathy, you and your older adult can have a constructive dialog that benefits everyone.