Many older adults manage chronic conditions and medications, see multiple health professionals, make treatment decisions and plan for health changes. Discussing health issues will help you understand the older adult's needs and preferences, and figure out what you can do. Before you talk with the older adult, ask yourself:
Set a small goal for your first conversation. For example, your goal could be to learn about the older adult's medications, or to ask about going to the older adult's next medical appointment. Good conversation starters include health-related facts, friends' or family members' experiences, or news stories. For example:
Be honest about your reasons for wanting to discuss health topics with the older adult. Acknowledge that the older adult might see the situation differently. During the conversation, focus on understanding the older adult's point of view. Don't push for decisions or actions right away. Don't try to cover too much in your first discussion. Try to end on a positive note. If you can, agree on next steps, like having another conversation or writing down all the older adult's medications
Everyone wants to have good care and be healthy. However, sometimes health discussions can bring up strong emotions. Older adults might feel intimidated by health professionals, confused by medications or embarrassed to ask for help. Well-meaning questions about their health might sound like attacks on their judgment or abilities. Listen carefully to what the older adult says. Remember that what you're talking about probably affects the older adult's life every single day.
During difficult discussions, do your best to share your thoughts calmly and clearly, using phrases like, "I am concerned" or "My feelings are". Focus on what you can agree on and how you can work together to support the older adult's health. You and the older adult might have different ways of speaking or thinking about health topics. Health discussions can be difficult when:
If the older adult has a negative reaction, it can help to ask why. Try to understand the older adult's point of view. If the older adult doesn't want to discuss it, don't push it. You might need to agree to disagree on some things. It's usually better to drop the subject and discuss it again later. If you understand why the last conversation was difficult, you might be able to find a better way to approach the topic next time.
Your follow-up conversations can help you and the older adult work together on health tasks. Follow-up conversations can be good opportunities to:
If you and the older adult agree on next steps during your first conversation, it can be easy to start the next one. For example: "Did you talk with the pharmacist about getting pre-filled pill boxes?" or "Here's what I found out about medical alert buttons." If the first conversation didn't end with clear plans, there are other ways to start a follow-up discussion. You might want to:
Encourage the older adult to share thoughts and opinions by asking open-ended questions like, "Are any health tasks difficult or unpleasant for you?" If you ask lots of "leading" questions - like "Wouldn't you feel better if I come to your next medical appointment?" - it can seem like you're just trying to get the older adult to go along with what you want.
Try to have smaller, more frequent conversations, rather than a few big ones. That gives you both time to consider options before you discuss health topics again.
Avoid launching into a health conversation every time you talk with the older adult. Try to balance the "serious" talk with time simply enjoying each other's company
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