How to talk to your parents about aged care

Psychologist Nick Petrovic gives practical advice on how to approach the difficult conversation of aged care with your parents.

When we’re growing up, our parents are the ones we turn to when we are in need. As we get older, however, the gradual shift from cared-for to caregiver can be a difficult one. Whether you’re concerned about options for long-term aged care, financial decisions for the future, current health care or safety needs in the home, the conversation can be a difficult one. Here are some tips that can help you and your parents talk about the sensitive subject of aged care.

Start early

Like most big decisions in life, being prepared is important. Understanding their preferences can be helpful, particularly if you’re suddenly faced with a life-changing event. Also, if you are able to discuss your parents’ options with them before changes happen, they may find the transition easier.

A good way to start these discussions is to use examples of other loved ones who have been through a similar experience, or even the things you would want help with if you were older.

Elderly mother and daughter

Choose a time and place

It’s important to choose a time and place where you won’t be disturbed so you and your parents will have enough time to discuss all of your concerns. It can also be helpful to come back to the discussion a couple of times. Looking at one issue at a time can help to make the whole process a little less intimidating; it can also give you enough time to discuss your concerns fully and reflect on your loved ones ideas and thoughts.

Looking at one issue at a time can help to make the whole process a little less intimidating.

Determine the participants

You may want to include other family members in these important conversations. To avoid mixed messages or unproductive discussions, you may want to meet with the family members beforehand, to make sure you are all on the same page.

If previous discussions have been met with resistance from your parents, it might be helpful to invite non-family members, such as your parents' family doctor, or a trusted friend or neighbour.

It can be helpful to ask if there are any responsibilities they would like you or someone else to take over.

Give options rather than advice

It is important that you convey to your parents a desire to help them rather than make decisions for them. Ask questions and offer several solutions when possible. If you're not sure what is available, you can speak to a health professional on the Bupa Aged Care Support Line to discuss options. It can be helpful to ask if there are any responsibilities they would like you or someone else to take over, such as home maintenance or paying of bills.

Above all, remember to show your parents respect. Approach them as partners in the discussion and ensure they feel comfortable enough to participate in all decision-making. Use open-ended questions and remember to really listen to not only what your parents want, but also what they are feeling. Try to keep conversations relaxed, and remember it’s okay if you do not reach any concrete decisions during the first conversation.

Bupa aged care support line

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