Discussing a terminal diagnosis or even a minor medical concern makes many people uncomfortable and understandably so. It's scary to accept that your health is declining, even if treatments are available to minimize pain or prolong life expectancy. Some seniors also feel like a burden to their loved ones or grieve the loss of their previous physical or mental functions. These feelings are normal, but you don't have to let them keep important conversations from occurring. Help families tackle challenging health topics with patience and compassion by using the tips below.
Think About What You Want to Say
Encourage families to plan conversations in advance and think about how loved ones may react. Unexpectedly blurting out life-altering information, such as "You have cancer" or "The doctor says you may never walk again" may not go well. Planning a conversation in advance gives family members some control over stressful topics. They can decide how much information they want to share and also plan ahead for questions about a condition or diagnosis.
Choose the Right Time
Stressful conversations often trigger feelings of anxiety, anger or sadness. That's why it's important to choose an appropriate time to discuss subjects. This may mean scheduling a family meeting or waiting until everyone can provide their undivided attention, such as during dinner time. When appropriate, offer to participate in the meeting and help family members relay medical information.
Keep in mind that some family members may dislike surprises and feel blindsided if someone springs big news on them without warning. Loved ones can help minimize the shock of unexpected news by saying, "I'd like to talk about some test results soon" or "There's something on my mind that I'd like to bring up when we all have time."
Warn caretakers and patients that they should avoid mentioning news during a special occasion, such as a wedding ceremony or birthday party. This may catch family members off guard and also lead to feelings of resentment.
Inform family members that it’s okay to ask whether it’s a good time to discuss important issues if they're unsure whether their loved ones are ready. A simple "Is it okay to talk about a serious subject now?" can help determine whether it’s appropriate to discuss important matters at that moment.
Sensitive subjects can make family members upset, and not just the ones who are personally impacted by the news. Show compassion by explaining that you're sorry about the news, and listen with an empathetic ear if a family needs to vent or share their fears. Encourage them to treat each other with the same respect and compassion.
Remind family members that they should not blame others for the news, even if a medical issue is caused by lifestyle choices. For example, a child should not yell at a parent who has smoking-induced lung cancer or worsening diabetes symptoms as the result of an unhealthy diet. Making a family member feel ashamed for previous decisions doesn’t improve the situation. Loved ones may find it helpful to speak with a counselor or therapist if they are angry about a diagnosis.
Dealing with medical news can be overwhelming for seniors, especially if they aren't sure how to handle the situation. Offer solutions that can help family members support an aging loved one, such as:
- Moving to a senior living community
- Starting an exercise routine
- Changing dietary habits
- Requesting in-home care
- Participating in a meal delivery service
Family members should speak with medical providers before offering suggestions, since some solutions may create additional issues.
Many older adults turn to senior living communities such as Brightview Senior Living when their health begins to decline. This provides peace of mind for family members while also providing a fun, welcoming environment for seniors. Support is available around the clock, whether seniors require constant supervision or occasional assistance. Seniors can even request special meals that meet or exceed doctor recommendations. Consider Brightview Senior Living for older adults and watch as they thrive in this respected community.