How to Talk to a Senior Citizen About Needing Care

Ashley Miller
Woman talking to senior

It's never easy to talk to a senior about the possibility of needing help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, cleaning, shopping or cooking. Most people want to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible, and they may have difficulty admitting they need some extra help.

Making a Plan

Things will go much more smoothly if you sit down and make a plan before you talk to your senior citizen.

Write a List of Concerns

Writing down your concerns, such as specific signs that indicate the senior might need help, can make your conversation a bit more focused and help you stay on track if things should become emotional or heated. For example, you may have noticed the senior in your life has been neglecting their daily hygiene or they have stopped taking the garbage out on a regular basis. Specific topics you'll want to cover depend on your exact concerns, but could include medical issues, housekeeping, personal care or home maintenance.

Talk It Over With a Friend

Talk over your concerns with a trusted friend, family member or qualified professional (such as a family doctor or counselor). It's normal to have doubts about whether it's the right time to broach the conversation. When you are concerned their well-being and/or health may be affected by their inability to fully manage specific responsibilities, you'll know it's probably time to broach the topic. Discussing your list of concerns with another concerned party can help to clarify and validate your feelings.

Plan the Conversation

When you do decide to have the conversation, schedule a time with the senior that's convenient for you both. Let them know you'd like to come over or meet to have a talk. Deciding whether it's appropriate to include concerned others, such as family members or involved health professionals, depends largely on the senior. If it's a parent, for example, you may have siblings you wish to include, or if it's a close friend, you might want to see whether it's more appropriate for that senior's family members, if there are any available, to be the ones to broach the topic.

Having the Talk

Having this kind of talk with a senior can be tough. Be compassionate and empathetic. While the decision might be clear to you, it may take the senior some time to acknowledge.

Be Direct

You may have difficulty opening the conversation -- it's normal to be nervous. Try to avoid beating around the bush, yet remember to adopt a respectful tone. You might think you know what's best, and you may be right, but remember it might be difficult for the other person to hear what you are saying. They might already know, on some level, they need help, but they may not be ready to admit it. While this can be frustrating, don't take it personally. Be clear and stay focused on your concerns. Bring your list so you can refer to it during the conversation.

Use Appropriate Assertiveness

The topics you plan to discuss are likely going to be emotional. To help prevent defensiveness and to facilitate communication, try to use "I" statements to voice your concerns. For example, instead of saying, "Your house is a pigsty," you might instead say, "I'm concerned your trash hasn't been emptied in a week." Instead of saying, "You smell like you haven't taken a bath in months," you might say, "I'm worried you have difficulty getting in and out of the bathtub." Focus on your feelings and specific concerns to keep the conversation on track.

Listen to Their Concerns

Everyone wants to be heard and to feel like their feelings are valid. Allow the other person to respond to your worries and concerns without being judgmental or blaming. Avoid saying things that discount their feelings, such as "You don't know what you're talking about." Let them know you hear and appreciate their feelings. Imagine what it's like to be in their shoes. Saying things such as, "I hear you mom, and I know this is scary for you; it's scary for me, too," or "I know you're angry with me right now, but I feel confident we can get through this together," can help soothe the other person's feelings and help them feel validated.

Provide Concrete Options

If possible, provide a few options for resolving your concerns. If you think the senior needs a part-time home health aide to help with medication management, have a list of a few providers and let her know you'll help make appropriate arrangements. If you think the senior you care about needs a higher level of care, such as assisted living or moving to a nursing home, offer to show him around to a few facilities when she's ready.

Be Patient

It's important to realize this conversation might just be a way of opening the door to future discussions. The senior may not be ready to hear your concerns yet. If this is the case, be willing and ready to talk about it at a future date. Unless it's a life-or-death situation, nothing needs to be decided in the immediate moment. It's likely your senior will need a bit of time to process everything you've discussed. When you've said what you need to say, let them know you're going to leave the conversation alone for now but you'd like them to think it over and you'd like to come back to it again at some point in the near future.

How to Talk to a Senior Citizen About Needing Care