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by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, December 2014

As our parents age, many of us will be in positions of increased responsibility and caregiving. This may create or contribute to anxieties, stress, and challenges for all involved, and eventually we will need to broach some "difficult topics." The topics can include driving a car, finances, medical issues, or lifestyle changes. These conversations require planning so it is essential to consider what we should assess before starting them.

We need an objective assessment of our relationship with a parent. Granted, this is not easy. But we can attempt to examine whether there is tension within the family dynamics. We can ask, is the relationship open and trusting? Might having a family doctor or good friend present when we talk about things be helpful? Might they be the better messenger? Understanding the relationship can guide us in how we approach the conversation, as well as in selecting the time and place.

We need to be mindful of changing roles and how we view ourselves. Are we "dictating" to our parents? The whole idea of "imposing rules" is a challenging concept. What we are addressing is deeper and more complicated than taking away a person's independence. It is about changing important aspects of their life (many of which are closely tied to their identity), while maintaining their dignity and respect. Even though we adult children assume more responsibility for our parent's care and/or well-being, it is essential the older person continues to feel valued, respected, and encouraged to do what they are still capable of doing. This is essential even as these capabilities may diminish over time. Each of us, regardless of our age, must feel important and that our life has meaning, and that we matter.

We need to be aware of how we communicate. Let's focus on these four ways to communicate with respect and compassion:

1) Tone of Voice
2) Volume
3) Facial Expression
4) Body Posture

In addition to our presentation, we can listen to their response. Is it fearful? Angry? Try to sense what they are feeling. Is there insight into underlying fears of losing their independence and role in a family and in the world?

For many older people, it is a RELIEF to discuss some of these topics because they are fully aware that they will not live forever or that they may be compromised in some ways. So, this can be an important opportunity to initiate and continue ongoing life discussions.

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