As we get older, we all get more and more set in our ways. At some point, however, changes have to be made to accomodate failing health, vision, and cognition. For our aging parents and loved ones, this can be a difficult time and your suggestions and good intentions can lead to stubbornness and arguments.
So how do you talk to your loved one about taking away the car keys, hiring a personal support worker, changing their diet, or any tough topic? The outcome of the conversation is in the approach you use.
One of the more effective ways to succeed in a difficult conversation is to use the TEMPO approach. TEMPO stands for timing, experience, motivation, place, and outcome.
Lifestyle and living conversations take more time, energy, and focus than daily conversations. Before starting it, make sure the timing is right. If they have an appointment to get to soon or a TV show coming on, let it wait. If you are running out the door for work or to pick up the kids, let it wait.
There also needs to be time to not just talk, but listen. Wait for them to finish their train of thought, even if they're speaking slowly. Conversations with a senior can take time and patience.
One way to enter into a conversation is to tie the topic to a direct experience or moment.
“Mom, I just finished working with my lawyer on updating my will, I was wondering when the last time was you took a look at yours.”
“Dad, My friend's father just had a heart attack and it took a long time before they could notify him, they didn’t have any emergency information in place. Can we take a look at how yours is organized?”
“Mom, I keep hearing other family members whispering that they refuse to ride with you any more. I'm concerned about how you’re feeling about driving these days.”
Why are you feeling the need to have this conversation? Are you concerned for their well-being and health? Are you concerned for yours? Or are you feeling angry, frustrated, or scared and ready for confrontation? If your intention to have the conversation isn't appropriate, stop. You will likely end up more angry yourself, and upset your loved one and put them on the defensive for future conversations.
Your goal needs to be to protect and care for your loved one, and also to take care of yourself. Make it clear that these are the goals of the conversation, and that it's coming from a place of love.
When you're ready to start the conversation, make sure it is in a "safe" place for your loved one. It may be in their home or in a quiet restaurant, but definitely not at the holiday dinner table. Perhaps your loved one's safe place is actually a person that makes them feel comfortable and relaxed. If this is the case, ask that person to be present for the conversation. Conversely, anybody that tends to upset or agitate your loved one should not be present.
Many times, a conversation needs to be started to simply lay the groundwork for achieving your overall goal. It could take days or weeks to finally get to your desired outcome. Knowing this will help you be patient when you don't get the answer today. Opening up the lines of communication, getting and sharing information, and understanding your loved one's feelings are what the first conversations are all about. There's no need to put pressure on them for an answer now or today.
By following these guidelines, being empathetic to your loved one and their situation, and having patience and time, you will likely develop a stronger relationship with your loved one, get to know them better, and be able to talk about those hard topics before they become the elephant in the room or a breakdown.