Last year one of my family members, due to a prescription happy physician, was on several medications that had changed her personality from friendly to flat, as well as challenged her decision-making skills leading to 2 car accidents (she had never had an accident in her 50+ years of driving). Luckily no one was hurt.
My sister and I shared our concerns about the situation, however; were weary of intervening because doing so would be extremely uncomfortable. After presenting to a group of family caregivers about managing difficult conversations, I realized that I needed to follow my own advice!
I called my sister that night and said “I know it’s going to be awkward, however; it’s become dangerous and I don’t want to be sitting at her untimely funeral because we were apprehensive about sharing our concerns and helping her come up with a plan.” My sister agreed and we set up what we referred to as an “intervention”.
We asked another family member, with whom she has a closer relationship with, to set up the meeting at their home. My sister and I arrived early, however; we started chit-chatting about life, love and the pursuit of happiness and were ill prepared with conversation strategy.
When the interventionee (a new word I just made up feel free to use it) arrived, we had no plan of action which left the 3 of us staring at each other hoping the other would start. Once we got over the initial discomfort things went a bit more smoothly.
Here are some tips to manage Difficult Conversations:
- Have the person with the best relationship set up the meeting.
- Do your research – Find out the medications they are taking in order to have an educated conversation about side affects and concerns.
- Begin and end with love. Let them know you love them and are worried about them.
- Stick to the facts– Share incidents that created your concern (without embellishment).
- Encourage them along the way – Let them know they are not alone and that you will help them any way you can.
- Commitment is key! – Ask them to commit to next steps and a time frame. i.e.: at the end of the meeting I asked her to call her doctor and make an appointment to discuss her medications, as well as allow me or my sister to go with to the appointment. Once she agreed I asked her to make the call the following day and call my sister to let her know when the appointment was and we would figure out who would be available to go with. NOTE: I gave her one person to call thus removing duplication of steps (having to make 2 phone calls to share the same information) out-of-the-way of moving forward.
- Follow up – We arranged for my sister to call her the next evening if she had not heard from her during the day.
I am pleased to say that since the intervention we have been her partner in her health care and have resolved some of the medication/ physical issues she was having.
These conversations are an uncomfortable yet necessary part of loving and caring for the aging loved ones in our lives. Don’t wait for the emergency to happen, help those around you make pro-active decisions. Believe me it’s worth a little discomfort.
More tips for helping an aging loved one can be found in my book Along Comes Grandpa. Visit http://www.alongcomesgrandpa.com to get your copy.