Are you a “Retreater”, a “Bulldozer”, or an “Engager” ?

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I just listened to an excellent interview online by David Solie, talking to LivHome Co-Founder Mr. Steve Barlam about what the Aging-In-Place industry refers to as “In Home Care”.  Mr. Barlam makes some excellent points and provides great insight and tips on how to approach the conversation with a parent about the beginning of and transition toward needing some help at home to maintain their independence.  I recommend listening to the interview in full, and I’ve linked to it below.  In Home Care is an important aspect of successful Aging In Place.

The Aging in Place Dilemma: Outside Care in the Home by David Solie

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Talking to our parents about their future, and their changing ability related to age, is one of the most challenging conversations and delicate topics we’ll face in our adult lives as “children”.

Mr. Barlam speaks about the importance (here comes that theme again) of PLANNING AHEAD.  He mentions ideas like the “pacing of the conversation” over an extended period of time (ahead of time).  You need to be sure you’ve taken the time BEFORE an acute occurrence such as a fall or an illness.  We agree whole-heartedly.  As with any relationship, being a great listener, and bringing a caring approach is critical.  You must be sure that you’ve spent enough time gently engaging your parent(s) in conversation, and getting to the root of their WANTS and NEEDS for the future.  You must be sure that you have a strong enough understanding of THEIR side and opinions, to be sure you are in alignment with their goals as you address them in coordination with your own thoughts and ideas.  You must be able to maintain the patience, courtesy, and respect for your parent(s) so that over time you are a “trusted adviser” when it comes time to help them with understanding the changes that area occurring or are going to occur, and creating an open conversation that can and should help lead to acceptance.

Don’t do this, and the likely result with your parent with be a natural human instinct of push back, and can result in a CHECKMATE with the “Irrational NO” answer.  You’ll be stuck at an impass, lodged in a quagmire that can ruin your relationship and potentially leave you with a lifetime of regrets when they’re gone.  None of us want that.

So, to use Mr. Barlam’s vocabulary – Which Type of Communicator are you when it comes to your parent (and should you consider changing that category)?

1) The “Retreater”:  You avoid conflict, and therefore you either a) can’t seem to bring up the conversation at all, or b) When any sign of push back or resistance arises, you immediately back off and drop it until “next time” if you even have the gumption to bring it up again at all.  This approach will result in the eventual “acute occurrence” and require you to step into action in PANIC mode, without any information about what your parents WANTS and NEEDS are.  Not a good situation to be in.  You need to talk about it, before something happens that forces you from what could have been PLANNING mode, into PANIC mode.  It’s time to step up to the plate and address the future while you can do so pro-actively.  You’ll be glad you did.

2) The “Bulldozer”:  You don’t have time for this.  You need decisions and you need them NOW.  You are impatient, which is a negative.  But you are a decision maker, which in many situations can be a positive – but not in this situation, and not in a mentality of “your way or the highway”.  That’s a major backfire waiting to happen.  Human nature and psychology will take over, and you’ll get that “CHECKMATE” response that comes with an irrational “no” answer stemming from a natural push-back from anyone being told what to do.  You don’t like it, and neither will your parent, especially on such a challenging discussion topic as talking to a loved one, and suggesting they accept that their independence is diminishing.

3) The “Engager”:  This is the winning approach, and the type of communicator you should work toward becoming when it comes to addressing this volatile and delicate topic of conversation.  This takes patience, respect, courtesy, a gentle delivery, and an allowance to let the conversation happen over an extended period of time.  As is frequently the case in life, the most challenging road is the right road to reach your destination.  This approach requires that you allow your parent to gain the trust that you have their best interest in mind, when they are likely to be skeptical.  It requires that you allow them to express their fears and concerns.  It requires that you take the time to listen, and actually hear them when they share their thoughts and opinions.  Even with all those requirements, it’s a worthwhile goal.  The end result is a destination where you have a parent that is willing to listen to you as well, hear what you have to say, what you hopes, thoughts, and feelings are about the situation.  It’s a destination where your parent can accept a future that could look different than the present in regards to their own life, independence, and some freedoms.

This discussion is about creating a partnership with your parent.

PARTNERING is EMPOWERING for both parties.  It’s a true WIN / WIN discussion if done right, and In Home Care is a valuable part of a successful Aging In Place solution for all parties involved.

He goes on in the interview to touch on some of his “Ten Tips for ENGAGING” your parent in the conversation – here are some highlights from that part of his interview…

 – Be prepared.  Put yourself in their shoes.  You do understand how they might feel.  After a couple of days in the hospital, you GET CRANKY!  You aren’t in control of your day, your routine, your decisions…

 – “I value what you are trying to defend, and I can help you with your vision to…”

 – Don’t take the push back personally, it’s natural.

 – Recognize and respect their FEAR and discomfort in the conversation.  What’s important TO THEM?  Are there any recent losses underlying their stance?  The perceptions of the elder are key to a successful conversation.

 – Acknowledging the FEELINGS.  Be their Ally vs. the Enforcer.

 – Start Early, Start SMALL… “Risk reduction” vs. “Full Risk Abatement” in one fell swoop.  What would they be WILLING to ACCEPT?  Get “a little help”, and grow the relationship for expansion.  There is POTENCY in PLANTING the seed.

– Consider the approach of “Accept the care FOR ME” (do the favor for the adult child).  They Don’t like “glaring needs / problems” conversation – feels like “HOT SEAT”, which no one likes.  SO, “re-framing” not as “YOU NEED” this, and “YOU CAN’T DO” that, as it will result in a power struggle.  And with you as the “child” that’s not likely to result in you ‘winning’ the conversation.  Instead, go the route of “Mom, I’m worrying about you”.  “Can you do this for ME?  So I don’t worry so much about you?”  Let them feel that you are asking a favor not for THEM, but for YOU the child.

And finally, our own “two cents” – 

Take a page from “Sales 101”, and use the “FEEL, FELT, FOUND” sentence structure in your responses to your parents’ concerns.  “I know how you feel…  I’ve felt the same way before when… and I’ve found that …. ”  It’s the quickest way we know to gain trust and rapport with anyone in a tough discussion that requires meeting in the middle (or getting what you want out of a conversation – which in this case should be what’s best for your parent!)

National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers

About the Interviewee: Steve Barlam is a recognized leader in the field of geriatric care management. He is a Certified Care Manager (CMC) and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). He co-founded LivHOME in 1999, a professionally-led, home care company. Steve shared tips and insights on creating more successful conversations with seniors about at-home care 


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