Worried About an Aging Parent’s Health? Here’s How to Bring It Up
We all want our parents to age well in good physical and mental health. After all, healthy parents are around to watch us graduate and get married, bond with grandkids, and celebrate family holidays for years to come.
So, it’s frustrating when your parent doesn’t seem to care about their own health. You might take it personally, as if they don’t care enough to stick around, or feel angry or apprehensive about needing to provide care someday.
In truth, how we care for our health is a highly personal decision shaped by a lifetime of experiences, not a reflection of our relationships with others. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t bring up your concerns.
How to Broach Difficult Conversations with Aging Parents
There are the keys to a productive conversation about your aging parent’s health:
Avoid patronizing or judging. Older adults don’t want to feel parented by their children. Read up on nonjudgmental communication to inform your approach.
Pick your battles. Not every bad habit is worth bringing up. Focus on the issues that pose the greatest risk to your parent’s health and quality of life.
Suggest, don’t dictate, solutions. It’s fine to offer suggestions, but don’t tell your parents how to live. Ask for their input and let your parents come up with their own answers.
Don’t expect miracles. Instead of asking for perfection, focus on incremental changes that will be easy for your parents to achieve. Over time, those small changes can add up to a big impact.
How to Talk About…
You’ve got the basics down and you’re ready to facilitate a productive discussion about your aging parent’s health. Before your visit, arm yourself with information about practical changes seniors can make for their health.
Inactivity increases a senior’s risk of developing chronic diseases and mobility problems as they age. This can have a huge impact on your parent’s quality of life and ability to live independently.
Going to a gym can be intimidating for seniors. Instead, suggest simple ways your parent can be more active at home, like breaking up long periods of sitting with physical activity or joining a neighborhood walking group. Using technology for working out in the living room is simple and comes in many forms, including YouTube videos, apps, and active video games to do living room workouts.
Seniors who don’t watch what they eat may gain an unhealthy amount of weight or become malnourished. Both extremes pose a risk to a senior’s health but eating well can be challenging when you’re older.
Identify which challenges are stopping your parent from eating well. Has arthritis made cooking uncomfortable, or are they unmotivated to cook for one? These challenges can be overcome with ergonomic kitchen adaptations and meal delivery services that eliminate the need for grocery shopping and prep work. It can be harder to convince a parent who is habituated to an unhealthy diet filled with red meat and processed foods to change their ways, but you can encourage them to add more healthy, whole foods to their diet or offer to cook once a week.
Installing grab bars, entrance ramps, and other aging-in-place modifications can feel like an admission of old age. However, seniors who avoid making home modifications are even more at risk of developing a fall-related disability and ending up in a care facility than seniors who are proactive about home safety.
When talking to a parent about home safety, highlight how making small changes at home will increase their independence, not detract from it. If your parent is especially resistant, research ways to make accessibility modifications blend into a home’s design, like grab bars that double as towel bars or smart devices that let your parents control the lights with voice command.
Finally, don’t take it personally if your parent isn’t willing to change. When parents are stuck in their ways, sometimes it’s better to let go and accept them as they are rather than invite strife into the relationship. However, if your parent’s unhealthy habits are veering into self-neglect, it may be time to think about assisted living.
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