Discussing Difficult Topics
With Your Aging Family Member


No one likes to talk about death. And no one likes to admit that the physical body can't last forever. But, the reality is that people do die and family members are left to deal with unresolved issues. Without pre-planning, this can be a real burden. So, how do you bring up the subject with your aging family member?

Then there is the topic of independence. As a caregiver, you may notice a change in your family member's ability to do daily tasks. Maybe their driving is erratic or unsafe. Maybe they need help with yard work or making meals. All of us love our independence and guard it fiercely. How do you talk to your aging family member about these changes and their effect on safety and the ability to live independently at home? How do you talk about issues without causing hurt feelings or family rifts?


Making important decisions during a crisis situation is not the best choice. Yet, many children of aging parents find themselves in this situation when an older relative suddenly needs help. It is best to plan ahead and discuss important topics with older family members. If you don't know where to start or you don't know how to approach your older relatives, there is help.

Start by becoming educated on likely topic areas such as driving, retirement planning, housing, long-term care, organ donation, funeral plans, etc. By knowing about the topic, you will be better equipped to handle these sometimes difficult discussions. Then, learn about techniques to help you bring up these subjects and divert resistance to the discussion.

To follow are online resources to help you start needed conversations with your aging family member:


With conversation techniques and knowledge of the issues and local services and resources, discussion of these topics with your aging relative may be much easier and less stressful.

Mother and Adult Daughter

Does Your Family Member Have Alzheimer's?

Having meaningful conversations with those who have Alzheimer's or dementia can be more successful if you follow guidelines developed by the Duke Family Support Program.




Dealing With End-of-Life Discussions and Planning for the End-of-Life

Often, the first time a family will get together to discuss what type of treatment an ill family member might want or what burial arrangements they may prefer is when a person is facing a serious illness or a terminal illness. It's never easy. But, some pre-planning and thinking ahead can make the time you have together during the end-of-life (or the possibility of the end-of-life) a more meaningful experience. It will also mean one less stressful discussion - one less stressful decision during a time that will be filled with the need to make many decisions and have important family discussions.



How To Talk To Your Doctor

As a caregiver, you may find that you need to facilitate discussions between your aging family member and his or her physician and/or health care provider.  Asking the right questions at the right time can save a life.  Doing so can also help your family member take medications as prescribed and lessen the need for office visits and emergency room visits. 

There are many excellent resources available to help you.  First, have the discussion with your family member about the need for clear and comprehensive discussions with the doctor.  Then make a list of appropriate questions before you go to an appointment.  If you have questions after you leave, do not hesitate to call.  The doctor is there to help people get well and stay well.  If you encounter any resistance to a clear and easily accessible avenue for discussions and communication, change doctors.





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