Having Hard Conversations with Seniors

Full Article by Holly Liebowitz Rossi in Guidepost here

(Excerpts from article)

Choose the Right Time, Place, and Posture

Avoid stressful, noisy places for difficult conversations, Solie advises. Regardless of where your conversation takes place, your body language matters immensely. If you are sitting, relax your body and maintain friendly eye contact. Keep your hands folded in your lap; crossing your arms can indicate a lack of openness. Breathe deeply to slow the pace of your conversation and relax your mind and body.

Be Ready to Listen
Seniors want to speak and, more importantly, be heard, says Solie. Storytelling can be a powerful way for seniors to remember ways other family members handled similar life moments, and those recollections can inform their own decisions. Stories can also connect seniors to a time before their present concerns were a reality, which can lower their overall stress and open their thinking.

Manage Your Own Feelings
Grown children naturally experience a range of emotions about the decisions their parents are facing, Solie says—worry, anxiety, and frustration are common. While these feelings are valid and important for adult children to explore, it’s not helpful to put emotional pressure on elderly parents. Solie urges grown children to be realistic about how much control they actually have. “We love somebody and get a distorted point of view about how we can keep them safe. It’s done with a kind heart, but there’s only so much we can do—and we have to have some peace with that.”

Be Patient
Difficult conversations are not one-and-done scenarios. Most involve decisions that, while urgent, do not needed to be reached immediately. Solie recommends viewing conversations as a progressive series of interactions and developing insights. When one session takes a stressful turn, adult children can say something like, “I realize this is a lot to think about, and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about it. I’m sure there will be other opportunities to revisit the topic in the future, but for now let’s table it for another day.”

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