How NOT to Approach the Topic of Home Care for Seniors

Maybe mom or dad used to be completely independent, but you’ve noticed them having a little more trouble at home lately. It started with the lawn going unmowed from time to time. Then bills began to pile up, along with dirty dishes and laundry. Now your aging parent forgets to take their medications or follow up on doctor appointments.
You know something needs to be done, and fast — or their health and safety could be at risk. You worry that a bad fall or medical crisis is just around the corner. But you want to broach the subject of home care for seniors in a delicate, tactful way. With that in mind, see which phrases to steer clear of!

“At least it’s not a nursing home.”

When older adults hear the phrase “nursing home,” many of them start to panic. This is because the majority of people prefer to spend their golden years at home. They may see accepting a home health aide – even for a few hours a week – as the next step towards an eventual move to facility living. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, receiving help at home can often prevent long-term care placement. Be sure to make them aware of this important fact!

“You’re being selfish!”

Often, when an older parent can’t function as well as they used to, they rely on family members to fill the gaps in care. They may not come right out and ask for help, yet they depend on you more and more. Maybe they say they don’t “feel like cooking,” every once in a while; before you know it, you’re preparing every meal – and cleaning up after it too. Or they ask you to arrange their prescriptions when you visit, and after time goes by, you’re in charge of coordinating every aspect of their medical care.
In moments of frustration, it’s possible to lash out at your loved one, calling them “selfish” for expecting so much. But the situation may not be what it seems. It’s possible they don’t know how much this is interfering with your life. The stress and strain on today’s caregivers is enormous[1. “What are the statistics of caregiver stress?” June 13, 2013,] and can even affect your own health.
But what if they do realize that caregiving is hard on you, but still refuse outside help? In that case, it is perfectly acceptable to say gently (but firmly), that you cannot continue. Offer to look into other options with them, but let your loved one know things will be changing so that your own well-being doesn’t’ suffer.

“You have to do this” (i.e., get home care)

Never tell an adult with a sound mind that they have to do anything. The whole “because I said so” tactic may work with toddlers, but your mom or dad are well beyond that age. It’s entirely possible they won’t be receptive to the idea of home care at all, and that is their right. However, you also know that things can’t continue as they are. Instead, say something like, “What about a trial period?” Let them know that they can cancel the service any time. If they still decline, tell them you hope they’re open to revisiting the subject at some point.

Home care for seniors is a tough subject at any age

No matter how old we are, we tend to value our independence highly.[2. “Losing Independence,” July 5, 2010,] Ever since we learned how to do things for ourselves – walk, drive a car, take care of our house – we are loath to admit we need help. That’s part of why talking about home care for seniors is so difficult – both for them and for you. But by approaching the topic with understanding and sensitivity, you can have a discussion with a positive outcome for everyone.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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