3 Steps to Opening the Conversation with an Aging Parent in Denial


No one wants to admit they are aging or can no longer do things they once could. Part of it is pride and part of it is denial. So how do you open the conversation to an aging parent in need of assistance?

Step One: Listen

First, as with any conversation between two individuals, it is important to give them respect and listen to what they have to say. Ask questions to better understand what they want, and genuinely seek to understand where they are coming from. Most people, no matter their age, simply want to be heard and feel the other person cares about what they want.

Ask questions that are open-ended about their future: "Mom, where do you picture yourself in the next few years? Does anything about the future concern you? What would be your ideal future?" Listen to their answers and what they hope for their future. Be careful not to dismiss their ideas because your idea of what is best differs from theirs.

Many times, people think they hear what they would want instead of seeking to find out what their parents truly want. Try not to impose what you would desire as the only way. Be open to finding a solution that would put your mind at ease and respect their desires.

Step Two: Take Inventory

Based on the conversation you have had, assess what things they may need help with. If your parent doesn’t identify any need for help you may need to point out a few areas you see that worry you (see Step 3 for phrasing that conversation).

Ask yourself some questions to determine your parent’s needs. Address safety by asking yourself, do they struggle getting up the stairs? Can they drive safely to pick up groceries, medications, or get to doctor visits and see friends? Are they living alone?

Take a look around the house; is it clean? Are they eating proper meals? Do they have a system to remember to take their medications? Are their bills paid on time? Are they wearing clean clothes? Are they keeping up with their personal hygiene?

The answers to these questions, can help you know where to start researching and formulate a list of options for your parents. Then, they can select the way they would prefer to obtain the help they may require.

Step Three: Make It Your Problem

After understanding their viewpoint, which may be complete denial about any needs for assistance, you can then explain your concerns. Once they have been heard, they will be more likely to try to understand your concerns.

Be clear you are not trying to control their life, but that you are worried about their health and well-being. Start with your biggest concern and address a plan for that issue. Try to state it as your problem:  “Mom, I worry about you being alone and something happening, can you please put my mind at ease?”

Let your parent come up with a solution they are comfortable with before barking out your plan. If they don’t seem to have a solution, be prepared to give two choices and ask, “What would make you feel more comfortable?”

With this approach to the topic you allow your aging parent in denial to decide what will be done to “put your mind at ease.” Allowing your parent to make the decision will leave them feeling more in control of their life and their future. Once you get into a pattern of creating a plan for putting your mind at ease about one issue, the next one will be easier.

When you set up the conversation as your problem, a parent will likely want to help you, and ultimately be helping themselves to discover the answer that is best for them. Most importantly, they will be making the decisions and more apt to agree to the plan.

Advice: Go Slowly

No need to rush into picking an assisted living facility, if getting a housecleaner would suffice. There are slow steps you can take to ease your parent into receiving the amount of help needed; keep in mind that it can gradually increase as more needs arise.

Nevertheless, you will want to take proactive steps to avoid a situation where your mom has fallen, but no one has stopped by to see her for 2 days for her to receive assistance.

Check out these gadgets that provide solutions to some safety concerns. They could be the answer to some of the problems your parent is facing and ease your mind, while keeping your parent’s dignity intact.

Need guidance assessing what services your parent may benefit from? Check out this list of services that could provide some support..

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