Caring for an elderly parent – How do you approach the difficult conversation?


What our parents want in their old age?

  • How can we take care of our elderly parents in today’s busy society?

  • Where will elderly parents live?

  • How to start the conversation about care needs ?

  • How to persuade our parents to accept help?

Nobody wants to have the conversation. The one where you talk to your elderly parents – the people who brought you up and looked after you as a child – about their growing need for support in their home.

The world has seen a drastic change in recent years and it has become very evident that certain reforms need to be made in order to properly care for our ageing loved ones. The rise in elderly individuals warrants change of facilities, homes, and even our own mindsets about the needs of the elderly. When it is your own parent needing care, the issue can be difficult to bring up. You never want the ones who raised you to feel as though they are not needed or wanted, but in certain circumstances, outside help may be required.

It’s good to talk – but that doesn’t make it easy

Age UK’s Advice line regularly receives calls from people who are worried about an older friend, relative, or even their own partner, but aren’t sure how to raise their concerns – or whether they should say anything at all.

“It can be so difficult to say to someone ‘I’m worried about you’,” says Lesley Carter, Age UK’s Clinical Lead. “You don’t want to charge in and imply someone can’t take care of themselves, or offend them by making it seem like you’re checking up on them.” Lesley suggests taking a step back and assessing your worries as objectively as possible.

“Things do naturally change as we get older,” she advises. “Someone might not have as much interest in activities they used to enjoy, or they might not have exactly the same personality as when they were younger. But if you’re noticing changes in someone’s behaviour that are concerning you – like someone refusing to leave the house – or you’re worried they’re in a situation that might not be good for them, it’s a great idea to talk to them about it, but in a way that helps you to see things from their perspective as well as yours.”

How to start the conversation

It is unlikely that your parents will ever bring up the need for help with everyday tasks. Our parents come from a generation that did for themselves and it is increasingly difficult to break with that notion. It is important that we think of things from the perspective of those that may need care support. They have feelings that require our attention when bringing up care concerns, but someone has to start the conversation and the subject should be brought up in a loving way that allows the parent to make the primary decision.

“I am starting to worry a bit about him,” says Gemma, about her grandad, Colin, who’s in his late 80s. “It’s getting to the point where the house seems like it’s too much for him to cope with.”

Chat privately

These decisions do not need to be made in a public environment. Some people make the mistake of taking their parents out to a meal in a very public place in order to keep them from possibly causing a scene. The tactic will ultimately backfire and you will end up embarrassing your parent. Instead opt for a very private environment in which the parent feels safe to speak their mind.

Timing is everything

The time to talk to your parent about possible care might seem ideal right after an accident, but this can be a very vulnerable time for the parent. They may feel sensitive about the thought of having someone to care for them, so it is often best to wait a while before bringing up the subject.

One of many conversations

The initial conversation will only be one of many. Your parent will need time to adjust to the idea and even if the initial conversation does not go as planned, give them time to digest the thoughts and bring it up at a later date. It is okay to have multiple conversations about the need for care.

Pay attention

One of the worst things you can do when talking to your parent about getting help is to simply talk without listening. They will have opinions and desires. Everything they say should be taken into consideration. When you begin listening, instead of simply talking to them, you will find that they have likely thought about this issue and may even have their own ideas about the best way to get the care they need.

Be supportive

Everyone has an opinion about what is best for themselves and your ideas and your parent’s ideas may not be exactly on the same page. Your relationship with your parent is paramount and when choosing what to do and how to provide care for your elderly parent, you can quickly deteriorate the relationship by not supporting their desires.

Do not force your ideas

Strong opinions are fine to have, but when you force your ideas on your parents, you can begin to push them away. A parent’s desire is for their children to be happy and when you begin forcing your ideas on your parent, you can make them feel as though they are not wanted or will become a burden on you if they do not choose your proposed path. No parent wants to feel this way, so do not allow yours to.

Talk about elderly care early – Avoid a care crisis

There are now 12.5 million people aged 65 or over in the UK, meaning later life care is something more and more families are having to consider.

Most people are at crisis point when they start looking for full time care, according to the Live-in Care Hub, who flags the majority don’t talk about it and don’t plan for it and when loved ones require full time care it’s generally needed urgently and unexpectedly. Typically, it’s where a parent or relative’s declining health reaches a ‘tipping point’, or perhaps there’s a family emergency, the illness of a family carer, a fall or a hospital visit.

Desperate families often have no idea who to turn to for help, or where to go for quality information about care choices. They are often suddenly at crisis point and have to drop everything to start researching full time care. It can be an emotive and stressful time for all concerned.

Don’t struggle alone – Support is available

Information is key in deciding what the best plan for your parent’s elderly care needs are. Consider counselling from an expert on the subject as an impartial party can sometimes be the best solution to the problem. Talking with an elderly care professional will provide insights for both you and your parent to look at the care needs from a different perspective.

Providing your parent with quality guidance and trusting them to make the right decision is essential to establishing the best care for their needs. You can have input, but always take into consideration your parent’s needs, desires, and wants.

Have you got any experience of broaching a difficult conversation with an elderly relative – successfully or unsuccessfully? We’d really love to hear from you. Join the conversation this National Conversation Week 2022 and share your advice with others, or ask for their tips.

Choosing the right care for a family member is a huge decision and not something that you should take lightly. Some of these conversations can be tricky and it’s our job to make sure you feel as comfortable as possible. Care managers at Ashridge Home Care are more than happy to visit you and your family at home to discuss your situation and consider the options available to you.