Having Conversations About Safety at Home With Aging Loved Ones
If a loved one is getting older and wishes to age-in-place, it’s inevitable that their needs will change over time. Maybe you’ve already noticed that their home is looking dirty, they’re not eating nourishing meals or their mobility has changed. It’s important to think through what may be needed to help them stay safe at home for as long as possible and have conversations about safety.
It’s a great idea to be proactive and start talking about these steps before there are any real concerns, but your suggestions to install safety equipment, hire a personal support worker or other ideas for support may have been met with conflict, anger or refusal. These conversations are often difficult for aging adults because they can feel like they signify the loss of independence. And it can be particularly hard to navigate a role reversal with adult children. If you need to talk to a loved one about sensitive topics related to aging, here are some tips to help you.
Older adults experience a series of losses as they get older—the loss of health, friends, mobility, etc.—and can struggle to feel in control of their lives and their environment. They may also feel like a burden, have financial concerns or are afraid of change. Try to empathize with these losses and feelings, remaining as patient and kind as possible. Say things like, ‘Mom, I love getting extra time with you when I take you to appointments,’ or ‘Dad, I know how much this house means to you. I want to help you stay here safely.’
Open the discussion by asking if there are any responsibilities–laundry, yard work or bill paying—that they could outsource to make their life easier. Positioning this as an opportunity to get help with what they want instead of what they need can be really effective. Talk about what has become difficult to navigate around the home and suggest where assistive devices or other changes may be beneficial. Go through The Safe Living Guide—Guide to Home Safety for Seniors together to reduce their chance of being injured at home. This approach will help your loved one feel like they are a part of the process and still have control over these types of decisions.
Agree to Disagree
Safety should always be your top priority and if, for example, your loved one is leaving the stove on, mixing up medication doses or wandering, additional help isn’t negotiable. However, if they do not have a cognitive impairment and there isn’t an immediate health crisis, you may need to step back. It can take many conversations over a period of time before they see the need for change as clearly as you. The goal should be open, ongoing dialogue so you can make decisions together along the way.
Enlist an Outsider
If you find that these conversations aren’t going well, you may want to bring in a social worker, occupational therapist, doctor or family friend. Your loved one may be more open to guidance from someone outside of their family or from a health professional. This can also help to prevent further conflict, resentment or distress in your relationship.
Talking with an aging loved one about tough issues isn’t easy. But done with empathy and patience, it can strengthen your relationship and is a way to express how much you love and care for them.
VHA Home HealthCare may be able to help your loved one if you are concerned about their health and safety. Private services for purchase include foot care, nursing and rehabilitation services, personal care, meal preparation, light housekeeping, companionship, grocery shopping and escorting to appointments on top of other publicly-funded support. Contact VHA’s Private Services Team at (416) 489-2500 ext. 4649 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. You may even have coverage for these additional services through your extended health benefit plan.