Starting the health conversation

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:

  • What are my specific concerns about the older adult's health, healthcare team or future plans?

  • What have I seen or heard that makes me have these concerns?

  • What don't I know? What assumptions might I be making?

  • Am I trying to convince the older adult to do what I think is best? Am I open to other possibilities?

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:

  • "I read that most people haven't documented their end-of-life wishes. Have you done this or thought about it?"

  • "It helps Grandpa to have Uncle Bob go with him to medical appointments. Would you like someone to go with you?"

  • "Did you know Susan's pharmacist found that some of her medications were causing her problems? Have you have someone look at all the medications you take?"

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