Are you concerned about a senior in your life? Have you noticed that they’re struggling day today? Do you believe they need to make some changes to prevent having an accident down the road? Is it getting difficult even to pry them out of the house to get a check-up at the local urgent care?
Convincing Stubborn Seniors
It can be a tricky conversation when you ask someone to make senior-friendly renovations or switch up their daily routines. When the elder is stubborn or opinionated, it’s hard to feel like you’ve made any progress. Sometimes it can become a gridlock when it seems your senior simply won’t listen to sense.
Not every senior is on board with changes like downsizing their lifestyle. Many don’t want to adopt mobility aids and other devices. They like their life just the way it is. After all, that’s why they’re aging in a place where they are instead of going into an assisted living situation. It can also be embarrassing for them to admit that they’re struggling with self-care or frightening to acknowledge that their health is declining.
How Change Happens
Change is a process that we prefer to take in stages, and psychology has mapped these out in the transtheoretical model of how we change.
As we discuss the future with our loved one, we could try to work our way through these stages:
- Precontemplation: “Problem? You’re the only one with a problem here.”
- Contemplation: “Yeah, that’s annoying, but nothing can be done about it.”
- Determination: “So what was your idea for fixing this?”
- Action: “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”
- Maintenance: “Hey, that worked out! I’ll keep up with it from now on.”
There are additional stages in the model that deals with reverting back, but these first five do the heavy lifting. So how do we get our stubborn someone from the first stage to the last? The answer is, gradually, and using the following tips.
Practice Active Listening
Remember that a conversation goes both ways. You take turns talking and then listening. Many people fail on the active listening side of the equation. Give your partner your full attention, no interruptions. Ask questions if you aren’t clear about something. Be empathetic and respectful.
It can be helpful to break this up into a series of casual chats instead of a big, emotionally charged talk. This gives the seniors time to work through their thoughts. It also gives you more practice with productive active listening. If you listen, they may listen. However, active listening on its own isn’t necessarily enough to convince them.
Discuss Their Concerns
Why don’t seniors want to make a change? The initial obstacle may well be that they don’t see a problem. If they see the problem, they may not be convinced the change will fix anything. They may even be worried they’ll end up worse off.
You won’t know the ‘why not’ until you can discuss it honestly. Why isn’t your senior bathing as often as before? You may assume it’s because they’re struggling with their balance. That can be fixed with grab bars and a shower seat.
However, maybe balance isn’t the problem after all. What if they don’t like showering because the icy air in the bathroom makes their arthritis flare-up? If you know what the issue is, you can offer more effective suggestions such as installing a safe heater in the room.
Pick Your Battles
It’s natural to want to fix everything right away, making your loved one as comfortable and safe as possible. It’s also natural for the senior to feel overwhelmed by so much change, especially changes that they had no input into.
Try narrowing down your list to just one item. Start with something small, that your loved one has already complained about. If they’re complaining, they know it’s a problem. It’s a lot easier to start from step 2 of the stages of change than step 1.
This tactic pulls double duty: you’re getting one important change implemented, and you’re building up the senior’s trust and confidence.
Your loved one will know that they are being heard, their opinions respected. They’ll also start to build confidence that they can mix up their routines, and that change can lead to positive things in their lives.
Choose Your Messenger
If your loved one is your aging parent, you may have an additional problem in the family dynamic. Some people will always have parent goggles on – no matter how old you are, they still see you as that energetic kid you used to be.
If you aren’t getting anywhere with the conversation, maybe someone else will. Who would they listen to? Their lifelong best friend who has always told them the blunt truth? An authority figure like their doctor or priest?
It can be difficult, embarrassing, and scary for someone to admit that they need more help than they used to. This is especially true for people who had a sudden change in health and independence.
Take the focus off of their changing capabilities, and try a lighthearted approach. Crack a joke or bring up a time when you yourself could have used that reminder or alarm gadget or service. If you change the tone of the conversation, they may see your advice in a new light.
The Bigger Picture
Remember that your loved one is also an adult. If you’re having these conversations, it’s because the senior is of sound enough mind to listen and potentially change. Focus on kind persistence. They may not be ready right now. However, you’ve planted the seeds for a better future.