Compassion is Key When Talking to Aging Parents

Being a caregiver is one of the most difficult (and rewarding) jobs on the planet; but sometimes when it comes to strong-willed aging parents, getting them to admit they might need a caregiver is more difficult than the caregiving itself. Take the story of David Solie, published recently in the Los Angeles Times; “David Solie thought he was being a good son and a competent manager. But his strong-willed mother was having none of it.”

According to the article, Mr. Solie (who “had cared for hundreds of elderly patients as a physician’s assistant” ) and his mother did not speak for almost three years after he tried to convince her that she “should move someplace easier to navigate — an assisted living complex, perhaps.” Mr. Solie also expressed that his mother “should relinquish her role as chief caregiver to Roger [Solie’s brother], who could be placed in a group home.”

These kinds of suggestions are often very difficult for independent and strong-minded seniors to hear, and with good reason; after having taken care of themselves, their children, and in some cases taken care of their own parents as well, in their time—it’s not easy to have someone come along and say they can’t do it anymore.

The key, says Mr. Solie, is to recognize and respect a parent’s psychological needs as well as their physical limitations. Once they were on speaking terms again, Mr. Solie started “asking his mom questions about her life and listening intently to her stories. Acknowledging to his mother that there were no longer easy ways to reconcile her safety and her desire to stay put, he asked what would work for her. Then mother and son struck compromises that built a network of support around her and Roger in their home.”

The process of transitioning elderly parents from independent lifestyles they may not be able to handle anymore will be made much easier if you begin the process by asking and listening, instead of simply telling. If the ultimate goal is to increase ease and avoid frustration, shouldn’t that be the goal of each conversation along the way as well?

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