Beginning the Conversation

Following are some tips from AARP for adult children preparing to talk with their parents about independent living.

Raise the issues indirectly

Mention a friend’s mother who recently hired in-home help, or an article that you read about programs at a nearby senior center. Example: “Is that something that you might be interested in learning more about?”

Find small ways to bridge the issue

Example: “I know you’re taking pills for arthritis, your heart and cholesterol. Would it help if you had one of those medication organizers you can buy in the drugstore?”

Share your own emotions

Example:  “Dad, it’s hard for me to see you slowing down and I know you’ve always prided yourself on being independent. I imagine it’s difficult for you to ask for help, but what are some things that we can do?”

Set the right tone

Once the topic has been brought up, listen to how your parents feel about their current needs, concerns, worries and hopes for the future. Don’t guess or make assumptions about your parents’ preferences. Ask open-ended questions that get them to express their perceptions.

Use communication that states your concern and avoids criticism

Example: “I’m feeling concerned that you may fall coming down the stairs. I could put a 100-watt bulb at the bottom of the stairs and install a handrail.” Don't say: "Going upstairs in your condition is ridiculous. You’re sure to fall.”

Avoid role reversal

Helping out doesn’t mean you are “parenting” your parents. The most productive interactions come when parents and adult children are equal in the relationship.

Their health

Ask: Are your prescriptions current? Have you been to your doctor lately? What did he or she say about your health?

Their finances

Ask: What are your current bills like and can you cover everything you need?
Have you thought about how you might need money in the future to help pay for assistance with everyday activities you might not be able to do yourself?
Would it be useful to consult with a financial planner?

How they pay for health care

Ask: What kind of health insurance do you have? Has it paid your health care bills so far? Do you have any questions about Medicare or Medicaid? 

Dealing with resistance

Your parents may not want to talk about these issues. Some resistance is normal.

  • Respect your parents’ feelings when they make it clear they want to avoid a subject. Try again later using another approach.
  • Consider pushing the issue if your parents’ health or safety is at risk. While your parents have a right to be in charge of their own lives, some crisis situations — such as health care expenses depleting a bank account — may call for you to intervene. If so, act firmly but with compassion.
  • Involve other family members or friends. You may want to hold a family meeting where everyone can discuss concerns and develop a plan to help.
  • Find out about community resources to help your parents remain independent, such as transportation or home health care, and share the options with them.
  • Be prepared to let your parents make their own life choices, even if you don’t agree with them. You should set your own limits as to how involved you can be. If the living situation is unsafe, you may need to bring in a third party to intervene.