Most people will help take care of an older family member at some point in their life.
AARP research (PDF) identified approximately 23 percent of employed adults are currently providing care for a family member and 50 percent are expecting to provide care for an older adult in the next five years. The percentage of adults providing care for older adults is likely much higher as many employees quit their jobs to become full-time caregivers.
Discussing aging needs and issues with older adult family members and friends is a great way to begin preparing for the future. The Texas Talks campaign was created to help you feel more comfortable initiating these conversations about aging and making plans for any situations that might arise. The 2019 Texas Talks campaign provides you with information on home health, financial planning, brain health and how to find help. Worksheets are provided for each topic to help focus your conversations.
Tips for Having the Conversation
People are living longer than they have during any other period in history. This is great news because it means we have more time to do things we enjoy, learn a new hobby, or relax with family and friends.
There are also concerns related to growing older such as the loss of control over our lives and self-determination or needing additional support for things we used to do without help, like driving, grocery shopping, or managing our own finances. How we prepare for aging impacts not only ourselves, but it can also affect our family and friends in unexpected ways. Many people find it difficult to talk about aging issues and express their preferences and expectations, even with people we love. Talking about aging can make people feel vulnerable, uncomfortable and perhaps even defensive. The HHS's Texas Talks campaign provides you and your loved ones with tips and methods for having conversations around aging in a less intimidating way.
As you start to discuss aging issues and topics with family and friends, keep these tips in mind:
Empathize and Relate
Keep the older adult in the center of the conversation. During the conversation, listen to what makes your loved one feel satisfied, content, comforted, fulfilled, happy, healthy and safe. Have the conversation at a time and place when the older adult feels comfortable and alert. Allow them to express themselves honestly and without fear of judgement, even if you disagree.
When preparing for a conversation, be ready to listen so you can understand the perspective of the older adult and explore their concerns and/or fears. The possibility of needing support can cause anxiety, resistance or even refusal to have the conversation, which might require you to revisit the topic more than once
Before initiating a conversation, take a moment to envision your own aging. How might you feel if you lost the ability to do things you can do now such as getting dressed, driving, grocery shopping or paying bills? How might you feel if you had to rely on someone else to help you do those things? Would you want to discuss sensitive and personal topics with someone? Taking the time to reflect on how you want to be treated will provide you with the empathy and insight to help guide you through these conversations. Recognize your loved one as the expert in their aging experience.
Having conversations about aging can be difficult for older adults as well as family members. However, these conversations are important to learn what aging loved ones want and value and how you can support them as they age. For example, if they need to move to a supported-living environment, how do they want to handle choosing the setting right for them? What role(s) do they want you to handle? Trust and an open dialog creates the environment where these valuable conversations happen. To create an open, trusting environment, it is important to let them talk while you listen. Allow them to direct the conversation while you listen and ask clarifying questions.
By listening you create a safe place for them to share their viewpoints, even if they are different from yours. Listen to what is being said as well as what is meant. Continue listening as time goes on because needs and wants can change. Respectful listening leads to respectful action.
Aging is a complex subject and talking about its needs usually requires multiple conversations. Set the expectation this will be an ongoing series of conversations, and outcomes might change depending on future situations. When setting expectations, be aware there might be resistance because of concerns regarding aging and the acceptance of needing support. The Texas Talks campaign encourages families to use the holiday season as an opportunity to begin or continue conversations about aging. To receive reminders and other information from Texas Talks directly, email TexasTalks@hhsc.state.tx.us and request to be added to the mailing list.
Discuss potential aging needs and issues before there is a concern. For example, if your family has a history of living into their late 90s, talk about how a long lifespan could impact finances. Or if your family has a history of dementia, talk about how it could impact aging and identify the best legal guardian. If you host conversation about aging proactively and routinely, it will eventually feel more comfortable for everyone involved. When planning, make every effort to encourage hope, choice and self-determination to support your loved one.
Create Action Steps
Having supportive and encouraging conversation about aging will ideally result in action steps. These conversations can make everyone feel better, and it can be a huge relief to have a plan in place. It is important to follow up with questions and concerns when planning logistics. End conversations by identifying items to follow up on, agreeing on the next steps, and noting any topics to discuss later. Also, be honest when requests might take time and when you do not know how or where to go about resolving discussion points.
Texas Talks is a yearly campaign that takes place during November and December. It highlights different aging-related topics and provides facts and resources to have conversations with loved ones about them. If you want to receive the 2019 Texas Talks resources, email TexasTalks@hhsc.state.tx.us.
Download the Texas Talks flyer and push card: