The Talk: How to Introduce Outside Help to Your Aging Parents

Introducing the topic of help at home to aging parents can be challenging for adult children. Many older adults find the idea of having a stranger coming into their home to be very distressing.  There are many reasons why older adults are apprehensive including the trust factor, the fear that bringing in help would mean losing independence and accepting that things are changing, and their abilities may be diminishing.

Adult children are often the ones providing all the aide and assistance to their aging parents and have come to a point where they cannot take on more of the caregiving responsibilities.  In many cases the adult child still works and has their own children living at home.  As people are living longer and the average life expectancy continues to increase, older adults will continue to rely on others for help as their health declines.

Family members are sometimes surprised at how long they’ve been providing help at home to their older loved ones.  What was once thought to be a temporary situation with helping mom or dad after a hospitalization, as an example, has now become the new way of life and a regular weekly schedule of helping with doctors’ appointments, transportation, household chores, meal preparation, medication management, and many other caregiving tasks.

Jennifer Benjamin, Geriatric Care Manager and owner of Family First Home Companions says, “From working with families over the last 15 years we have found that adult children have one of three types of relationships with their parents.  Open communication, passive communication, or closed communication”.

  1. Open Communication. The adult children can easily share their own opinions and thoughts with their parents in an open and honest way without being criticized, ignored, or receiving an angry response.  Their parents listen to what they have to say and take their children’s feedback seriously.
  2. Passive Communication. The adult children have difficulty sharing their own opinions with their parents and yield to what the parent(s) want.  The parent(s) has always been the decision maker and does not include the children (or other family members for that matter) in the decisions.
  3. Closed Communication. The adult children do not communicate with the parent(s) or have a strained relationship with the parent and are not able to share their opinions or thoughts at all.

When deciding on how to introduce outside help to your parents, think about your relationship with your parents and which category it fits into.  From there you can gauge the best way to start.

Other factors to help you in your approach include the following.

  1. Safety concerns. If there are significant safety concerns that will be addressed by bringing in help, you will want to keep this a high priority.  Safety concerns would include things such as, the risk of your loved one having a bad fall (especially if he or she has already fallen), fire hazards in the home (i.e. leaving the stove on), or a serious car accident.
  2. Personal care/hygiene concerns. Personal care and hygiene concerns are a delicate topic but nonetheless important.  If your loved one is not practicing good hygiene and/or not taking care of him/herself it could be affecting their health and quality of life.  This could include items such as, getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, taking medication correctly, or addressing medical issues that arise.
  3. Social isolation. If your parent(s) is isolated at home and not socializing with others it could put him or her at risk for depression, short-term memory loss, and/or cognitive impairment.

Before the talk, collect information about companies and services that would be helpful and that you could offer as solutions.  For instance, if it’s time to suggest that mom or dad stop driving, offer a transportation service as an alternative.

Keep in mind that this may be a process that takes time and the introduction to outside help may not actually turn into starting right now.  At Family First Home Companions, we have clients that started our services a year after their first call to our office.  While it may not be something your mom or dad are receptive to now, it does not mean that they won’t be open to it at a later point.  Also, try not to start with too much help at first.  Many home care companies offer minimum hours to accommodate those that do not need help daily.

Ways to Start the Conversation:

  • “How are you feeling these days? Is there anything that’s been troubling you?”
  • “How’s the house? It must get hard sometimes to keep up with it.”
  • “How are you feeling with driving these days?  Any difficulties?”
  • “It looks like you’re having trouble with… Would it help if someone was here to help you with that?”

If your parent(s) is very resistant to the idea of bringing in help in the first conversation, try not to push the topic.  You may be laying the groundwork for a lot of arguments going forward.  Instead, let it be for now and try again later.  In the meantime, it may help to bring your parent to a primary care physician to have a checkup and talk to the doctor about your concerns.  The doctor may also encourage your aging parent to consider outside assistance and/or stop doing an activity that has become a safety concern, such as driving.