Conversations From the Heart: A Message on Healthy Aging

Conversations From the Heart: A Message on Healthy Aging

Our clients in the senior housing industry know first-hand how difficult it is for seniors and their families to come to a decision about whether they should move from their own dwelling to a senior living community. Whether those decisions must be made quickly, based on a crisis or sudden change in health, or families can take their time exploring options, constructive conversations – ideally in advance of acute developments – are key to a smooth transition.

As niche specialists in marketing in senior living (and adult children of aging/ailing parents ourselves), we at IVY would like to share what we’ve learned about signs that an older loved one might need help and how to have productive conversations that include the whole family – first and foremost, our beloved seniors.

I. Signs Your Aging Loved One Might Need Help

  • Personal neglect: Have they slowed or stopped carrying out their everyday hygiene, dressing and grooming?
  • Mobility issues: Do they appear to have difficulty getting around or lack steadiness? Do they have trouble standing up from a seated position? Are there any bruises or scrapes that may indicate that they’ve fallen or bumped into furniture?
  • Memory impairment: Do they exhibit signs of memory loss at a level that is concerning? Do they seem uncertain or confused when performing once-familiar tasks?  Are they missing important dates or getting lost in conversations?
  • Poor housekeeping: How does their home look? Are there piles of laundry lying around or spoiled food in the refrigerator?  It’s unhealthy to live in a household that’s dirty and unsafe to live in a home that is cluttered.
  • Dramatic weight loss: Have they lost a noticeable amount of weight?  Weight loss in the elderly is not uncommon. However, if it’s dramatic, it might indicate a serious health issue, depression, a loss of ability to prepare meals, or worry about budgeting for food.
  • Social inactivity: Are they socially withdrawn? Isolation is terrible for both physical and mental health. As one ages, positive social engagement is still crucial. It just becomes more difficult to find.
  • Questionable judgment: Are they exhibiting poor judgment, such as excessive spending or making uncharacteristic purchases? Are they easily taken in by phone/mail/online scams?
  • Social miscues: Are they making uncharacteristic comments or responding inappropriately to friends, family or strangers?  Do they seem to lack a “filter” in social situations that is unusual for them?
  • Driving incidents: Are they safe driving? Are there unexplained dents and scratches on the car?
  • Money mishaps: Do they seem to have difficulty managing money and finances? Are there unpaid bills, late payment notices, bounced checks or calls from bill collectors?
  • Medication missteps: Are they taking medications properly? Check your parents’ prescriptions to make sure they’re being taken regularly and at the correct dosages.
  • Chronic health issues: Are they struggling with frequent problems, such as urinary tract infections (UTI’s), dizziness, “seeing things” that aren’t there? Hallucinations and light-headedness are common symptoms of nutritional and/or electrolyte deficiencies, often due to dehydration.  UTI’s are a common result of dehydration.

If you notice any of these signs on a persistent basis, it may be time to talk with your parent and/or their healthcare advisor.  A good benchmark is the presence of any one or more of these indicators at least half of the time you’re with your parent.  Pay attention to reports of these signs from others who spend time with your parent as well, such as friends or neighbors.  If possible, stay in touch with these people for confidential updates, particularly if you’re not able to be with your parent often.

II. How to Have Constructive Conversations

Given that your parent is probably aware that they are “slipping” and that their world is narrowing, discussions about their future are likely to be laden with emotion.  More than anything, you will need to approach these talks with compassion and understanding.  Here are some further suggestions for beginning the conversation:

Don’t delay:  The optimal time to broach the subject is as soon as you notice something’s “different” about mom or dad—before things begin to decline even further or a crisis situation arises.

Have a plan:  Now is not the time to improvise.  It’s important to consider the things you wish to discuss with your parent in advance.  Rehearse or even “role play” what you will say and how you’ll bring up certain topics.  Come prepared with key points to raise and ask yourself in advance what you wish to gain from the conversation.  Try to anticipate how your parent will react and how you’ll respond to each possible scenario.

Enlist family members:  Don’t go this potentially rough road alone.  Join with other family members (your parent’s spouse included, if applicable) in formulating a discussion plan ahead of time.  It’s crucial for everyone to be on the same page and present a united front.  It may also be helpful to designate a certain family member as “leader” of conversations, one who can keep the process going and make sure that everyone agrees to and understands it.

Empower your parent:  While you’re rallying your family team, keep in mind that your parent is the most influential member of the conversation.  Listen to them attentively and compassionately; ask them questions about their desires, concerns and fears, while also impressing upon them that a comprehensive plan is essential.  Assure them that the entire family is part of the decision process, and you’re all in this together.

Be straightforward:  Don’t complicate things by hiding negative information or “sugarcoating” realities.  Be honest and forthcoming about changes, concerns, limitations and possibilities.  Be sure to also offer hope in the foundation of your support and strength as a family unit.

Offer to accompany your parent on doctor visits: “Four ears are better than two” is a great rule of thumb for anyone having a medical consultation, particularly an aging loved one.  Offer to help your parent schedule doctor or healthcare visits and commit to attending them with him or her.  This may be assuring to your parent as well as helpful in gathering and grasping important information.

Take it in stages:  If time allows and you are not in an immediately critical situation, be careful not to overwhelm your parent with too much discussion at once.  Respect their wishes to take a break from the topic, while gently stressing that the conversations need to continue.  Agree upon an appropriate time and place to meet again before you part ways and remind your parent ahead of time of your next discussion.

We at IVY understand that the seniors in our midst are precious – our most valuable human assets. Our clients in the senior living arena ensure the best living for older adults, and we are honored to be their partners in telling the world what that really means.