You are seeing signs of decline. Maybe it’s a lack of sharpness remembering things. It could be unsteadiness on a flight of stairs. The alarms in your head tell you that you need to talk to your aging parent(s) about the realities of their future living and care situation before a crisis arises. It is rarely an easy conversation. But, to ensure that your parents can maintain their independence for as long as possible, while remaining safe, it’s a necessary one.

You’ll hear us state over and over that the key to successfully age–in-place is to pre-plan. As an adult child, your participation in the discussion and preparation are vital. So, as you are planning to have that difficult talk, here are some tips to approach the conversation in a positive and cooperative manner:

#1 Openly Communicate

Honestly share your concerns, as you have observed them, but then step back and be cognizant of how your parents react. Are they defensive? Are they surprised? Active listening is required to understand your parent’s needs, concerns, and preferences. Be empathetic to their fears of losing their independence.

#2 Encourage Autonomy

While you may have concerns about their safety and well-being, it’s essential to respect your parents’ independence and their right to make their own decisions, even if you disagree with them. While you can’t control their decisions, you can let them know how their decisions make you feel.

#3 Offer Choices

One way to protect their autonomy, while allaying your concerns, is to explore different alternatives. Offer your parents choices. Lay these out and then discuss the pros and cons of each. They may be more willing to accept help if they feel they have control over the situation and can choose the type of support that aligns with their preferences.

#4 Start Small

Find out what they think the critical issues of the day are and work to resolve those. Then, make a plan for the future. Maybe today they just need help with household chores or paying bills. Maybe those steps up to the house are becoming problematic. Offer suggestions that will keep them safe but maintain their comfortable status quo and build on that.

#5 Educate Yourself

There are many common issues faced by aging adults, such as health concerns, financial planning, and legal matters. Research local services and resources available for seniors, such as transportation services, meal delivery programs, or senior centers. Pre-planning and having this knowledge will enable you to guide your parents to these resources as needed so they can remain active and engaged in their community.

#6 Offer to Help Out

Offer to help pitch in with tasks that are becoming overwhelming for them. But understand that your parents may want you to do these tasks with them – not for them. Their way, not your way. For example, for a younger generation, paying bills online or setting up autopay is efficient and easy. For your aging parents, it can feel foreign and as though they are relinquishing control. Allowing them to keep the systems that they are familiar with can provide a sense of staying in charge.

#7 Set Boundaries

While it’s essential to offer support, it’s also important to establish boundaries and respect your own well-being. Realistically assess the viability of you acting as a caregiver or even providing regular assistance. Communicate your limits to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Equally important is to resist becoming overly pushy or resentful if your parents refuse the help you can offer. Focus on what you can control and accept that you may not be able to change their mindset immediately.

#8 Encourage Them to Plan Ahead

Especially if you hold the power of attorney for your parents, their decisions not to plan will become your decisions in the future. No one wants to think about their decline. But the effort to look ahead and understand their wishes will allow you to align the decisions you may ultimately need to make with their goals – to the extent that you can.

#9 Don’t Give Up

Even if your parents refuse help initially, continue to stay connected and involved in their lives. Be supportive and available. Remain open to revisiting the conversation about their aging-in-place goals in the future. Continue to let them know that your main goal is preserving their independence and honoring their wishes.

Finally, #10 Remember You are Not Alone

Encourage siblings and trusted family members/friends to participate in the discussion and planning. With their permission, include your parents’ healthcare providers, financial advisors or other professionals. And always remember, with Life Managers & Associates’ experience helping dozens of families for over 14 years, we are here to facilitate the discussion and help build a bridge between the fear of losing independence and the goal of successfully aging-in-place. You just need to call.