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Conventional wisdom frequently tells us that doing the right thing isn’t always easy. What it doesn’t necessarily tell us is how to work through the tricky bits when we come up against adversity. Generally, it’s a combination of perseverance and patience that wins the day and, as people who’ve helped thousands of families through senior living transitions, we can say with some authority that the formula holds up when it comes to helping an older adult plan for the next phase in his or her life.
As we grow older, we work through a lot of changes, which can make us reluctant to lead the charge when it comes to shifting our living situation. Sometimes, a friend or family member simply asking a question or introducing the topic is enough to start us thinking about a different option. Other times, we’re just not ready to have the conversation. Which begs the question: How should you proceed if your older relative isn’t receptive to a senior living conversation?
This response is common, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the situation, but it can be overcome. Try the following tips to keep your conversations productive.
Take a Step Back
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your plan for what comes next doesn’t have to be, either. If your older relative resists a conversation about senior living, it’s OK to back off. Take some time to reconsider your approach and let everyone relax. Take a few days or weeks away from the topic and look for a natural avenue into an honest discussion about the older adult’s living situation. If possible, ease into the topic, stick to their present situation and challenges during your initial chat or chats and make a mental note and reintroduce those topics later on. Extend the conversation bit by bit so your relative has time to contemplate any concerns or questions he or she may have the next time you bring it up.
Find a New Angle
Position determines perspective. It’s possible that a conversation starter or question that seems low-pressure to you might feel very different to your older relative. Surely, something you’ve noticed has prompted this conversation, so re-evaluate how you can introduce that question or concern without putting the older adult on the defensive. Instead of, “I think you should move into senior living,” try a less declarative statement or question such as, “What three things do you wish were easier?”
Hand Over the Reins
Instead of leading the conversation, ask your older relative directly if he or she is willing to talk to you about the current living situation. Say you want to understand more about what’s going well and how you can be of support. Ask your relative to take you through a typical day and invite him or her to ask questions of you. Do whatever you can to make space for the older adult to guide the conversation — you may be surprised by what you learn.
Get an Outsider's Perspective
If it gets to the point where you feel as if you’re talking in circles, it may be time to call in some support. Oftentimes, a third-party perspective can offer the clarity we need to see our way through conversations that have gotten stuck. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and church leaders all can offer informed insights that may cut through the emotions that arise in conversations between close family members. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.