Discussions help families understand and respect older relatives' wishes, share information and make decisions together. Focus family discussions around the older adult's needs, wishes and priorities. Before suggesting a family discussion, ask yourself:
Be honest about your reasons for wanting a family discussion. Acknowledge that others might see the situation differently. Good conversation starters include facts, friends' or family members' experiences, or news stories. For example:
Set a small goal for your first family discussion. For example, your goal could be to update family members on the older adult's needs or to ask everyone what they're doing or could do to help out. During the discussion, focus on understanding other people's points of view. Don't push for decisions or actions right away. Don't try to cover too much in your first family discussion. Try to end on a positive note. If you can, agree on next steps, like sharing information or opinions on a certain topic.
Sometimes, older adults aren't able to fully participate in family discussions, due to dementia or other health issues. However, older adults tend to be happier if they are included in family discussions and decisions at some level. For older adults living with dementia, it can help to keep discussions short, take breaks and focus on one question or topic at a time.
Asking older adults about their plans and priorities early helps families understand and honor their wishes. During discussions, family members can consider the older adult's:
Talk to and try to include the older adult's official decision-makers in family discussions, such as:
These decision-makers should be familiar with the older adult's preferences and health, financial or legal situation. Official documents can also provide guidance. For example, an advance directive or living will describe the older adult's feelings about certain medical procedures.
Discussions about helping older family members can bring up strong emotions. Some family members might feel overwhelmed or resentful that they're doing too much. Others might feel left out. Old sibling rivalries or bad feelings might affect family dynamics.
If discussions become difficult, encourage family members to be honest. Speak 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.
Focus family discussions around the older adult's needs, wishes and priorities. Family members might have different ways of thinking or speaking about something. Discussions can be difficult when:
If you can't agree, drop the subject and bring it up again later. To understand the dynamics, ask family members:
If you understand why the last discussion was difficult, you might be able to find a different way to approach the topic next time.
Your follow-up discussions can help family members work together to support the older adult. Follow-up discussions can be good opportunities to:
If family members agreed on next steps during your first discussion, it can be easy to start the next one. For example: "Did you find a healthcare power of attorney form?" or "I'd like to hear what you think about this home safety program." Other ways to start a follow-up family discussion include:
Encourage family members to share thoughts and opinions by asking open-ended questions like, "What do we need to make good decisions together?" If you ask lots of leading questions-like "Isn't this option really the best?"-it can seem like you're just trying to get others to go along with what you want.
It is important to give family members time to get and consider new information. If you make decisions or plans, make sure that everyone understands what will happen and their role in it. Taking and sharing brief notes can help. It can help to ask if anyone wants to make changes to their task list. However, avoid discussing helping the older adult every time you see family members. Try to balance the "serious" talk with time enjoying each other's company.