It’s not easy to broach certain topics with your elderly parents, especially when your goal is to persuade them to give up their car keys, hire a home health aide, move into a more accessible home or take other measures to protect their health and safety. After all, precautions such as these inevitably chip away at the sense of independence even very elderly parents are reluctant to relinquish.
Good news: There are simple strategies to make these difficult conversations less awkward—and more productive—says Virginia Morris, author of How to Care for Aging Parents. Here’s what she suggests…

Start any conversation by listening. Ask your parents about their worries, fears and hopes, and discuss these issues before sharing your concerns. This is, after all, about them. As a plus, they might be more willing to listen to you after they have felt heard.

Don’t wait for a crisis. Start the conversation when the risk for a debilitating fall or a serious car crash still is largely theoretical and not an urgent concern. Ways to get the conversation started: “Dad, if you ever needed to stop driving, what would you want to do about getting around?”…“Mom, if you ever found yourself needing help at home, how would you want to handle that?”

One conversation won’t be enough. It often takes a series of talks over weeks, months or even years before your aging parent agrees to consider your concerns.

Pick the right time to talk. While it can be helpful to have these conversations when several members of the family are present, a holiday dinner or birthday party probably isn’t the best time to discuss these sensitive topics. Better: Find a quiet time when you won’t be interrupted. Ask your parents how they are doing, and what, if anything, worries them about their future.
This doesn’t all have to fall on one person, although one sibling might take the lead because he/she lives near the parents or has a closer relationship with them. Also: Consider any relevant expertise that you or your siblings might bring to the table. If one sibling is a lawyer, he might be best positioned to talk with your parent about legal or financial matters…if one sibling is a doctor, she might take the lead on medical care.

Don’t spring things on your parents. Your parents may feel ambushed or overwhelmed if you say you’ve already researched home-care options or if you show up with armloads of brochures for assisted-living facilities. Better: Before making or agreeing to any specific plans, share your concerns and suggestions with your parents, and listen carefully to their feedback.
You can start the conversation indirectly. Example: “Sometimes I worry that you’re having trouble with X or are at risk of Y. Do you ever worry about that?” Or you could start by talking about someone else’s situation. Example: “When Aunt Joan moved into that life-care center, what did you think of that? Was that a good move for her?”

Reminder: Independent- and assisted-living facilities often have long waiting lists. If you envision your parent eventually moving into one of these, encourage him/her to visit a few facilities months or even years before the anticipated move.

Be prepared for pushback. You’re not your parents’ parent. As long as they aren’t having significant cognitive problems, they remain in charge of their lives. You can plead with a parent to stop driving or use a walker. Listen to their reasoning, discuss the risks, encourage them to consider some options, and give it time. But at some point, you might have to back off. We all have the right to take risks, and 
we don’t lose that right just because we have turned 85.
Exceptions: Intervene right away if you suspect that your parent is a victim of abuse or exploitation…that his diminished driving skills are putting others’ lives at risk…or that she is cognitively impaired and unable to make rational decisions.

Suggest a trial period. An aging parent who is unwilling to commit to a particular course of action might be willing to try it on a temporary basis. Then if he sees the benefit of hiring an aide for a week or two or temporarily using taxis or ride-sharing companies to get around, he might agree to a permanent change.

Another approach: Offer a compromise. Examples: If you aren’t sure if your parents can drive safely yet they refuse to give up their car keys, perhaps they will agree to stop driving at night and in bad weather. Or if they won’t move into an assisted-living facility—maybe they would be willing to wear an emergency alert device or accept the installation of improved lighting and grab bars and other assistive devices in their home.

Be clear about how much you’re able to help. Your parents may expect you to be on call to help with any problem that arises. If you’re able to do that, fine. But if not, tell them just what you are willing to do—and what you are unable to do. Example: If you work, have young children or have other ­significant obligations, you might offer to stop by your parents’ home for a few hours once a week.
Remember: While we know what it is like to be children and teenagers, we do not know what our parents are going through. We haven’t been there yet. It’s a tough job, but best to have a good dose of compassion, patience and humility.

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