Nearly everyone wants to stay in their home as they age. Discussing home safety with the older adult early gives you more time to get information, consider options and make changes. Before you talk with the older adult, ask yourself:
Set a small goal for your first conversation. For example, your goal could be learning whether any areas in the home are challenging for the older adult, or seeing if the older adult shares any of your safety concerns. Good conversation starters include home safety facts, friends' or family members' experiences, or news stories. For example:
Be honest about your reasons for wanting to discuss home safety. 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 with the older adult, like having another conversation, scheduling an appointment or doing a home safety assessment together.
No one is against being safe at home. However, sometimes home safety discussions can bring up strong emotions. Older adults might be embarrassed that they're struggling with something that used to be easy, or afraid that they might lose their independence. They might feel like their judgment is being questioned.
During difficult discussions, do your best to calmly and clearly share your thoughts, using phrases like, "I am concerned" or "My feelings are." Focus on what you can agree on and how you can work together to improve home safety. Listen carefully and consider what the older adult says. Remember that what you're talking about probably affects their life every single day.
You and the older adult might have different ways of speaking or thinking about home safety. Home safety discussions can be difficult when:
If the older adult has a negative reaction, it can help to ask them why. Try to understand their point of view. If the older adult doesn't want to discuss it, don't push. 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 different way to approach the topic next time.
Your follow-up conversations can help you and the older adult work together to improve their home safety. Follow-up conversations can be good opportunities to:
If you and the older adult agreed on next steps during your first conversation, it can be easy to start the next discussion. For example: "How did your eye exam go?" or "I heard back from the city about home accessibility resources." If the first conversation didn't end with clear plans or on a positive note, there are other ways to start a follow-up discussion. You might want to:
You can encourage the older adult to share their thoughts and opinions by asking more open-ended questions, like "What changes would you like to make around the home?" If you ask lots of "leading" questions - like "Wouldn't you feel safer if you used a cane?" - it can seem like you're just trying to get them 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 get information and consider options before you discuss home safety again.
Avoid launching into a home safety conversation every time you talk with the older adult. Try to balance the "serious" talk with time spent simply enjoying each other's company.