How to talk to your older relative about their health
As your loved ones get older, things begin to change. Your relationship with them may look different, and at the same time they may be experiencing changes in their health and abilities. For many people, seeing your loved ones struggle with their mobility or their memory can be challenging. You may not know how to bring it up to them — or maybe you have brought it up and it didn’t go well.
Changes in someone’s health as they get older is a normal part of aging. Their bones change, lung volume decreases, their kidneys don’t function as well, and they may interact with medication differently. However, age doesn’t have to mean a decrease in functionality.
“A lot of people think that as you age you are supposed to have aches and pains, memory issues and more,” said Dr. Lakshpaul Chauhan, geriatric physician at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. “While this may happen, you don’t have to accept it. We may have solutions that can help.”
If you notice your loved one struggling as they get older, approach them gently. Ask questions like “how can we help you?” Open-ended questions and discussing things neutrally are important to showing your loved one that you care and that you aren’t trying to dictate a plan to them. Often, your loved ones may be aware that they are not how they used to be., By asking them open-ended questions, they may be more open to talking about what they are struggling with. Come up with solutions together such as driving them to their next appointment or going with them to their physician. Don’t forget to discuss what’s going well — sometimes we focus on the negative aspects of health and ignore the tasks individuals are doing well.
However, there are some red flags you should watch out for. If you notice that your relative has full pill bottles or pills all over the house, they may not be taking their medication. If they’ve recently lost a lot of weight unintentionally, that’s another red flag. More bumps and scratches on the car or repeating questions constantly are other reasons to have a conversation. In those cases, you should consider bringing them in to their doctor to be evaluated.
“Sometimes having the extra support by seeing a physician can help. If we don’t know about something, we can’t help. Sometimes parents may not be willing to hear from their children, but they might see it differently if their doctor brings it up,” said Dr. Chauhan. “When they come to our office, we can see if they are taking their medicine and eating enough and discuss other ways we can support them.”
Some of the most important things for older individuals is staying active and eating enough. Dr. Chauhan encourages his patients to go outside or use a treadmill or elliptical at home — even a small amount of exercise has great benefits for cardiovascular health as well as reducing the progression of any memory impairments. For older patients, it’s important that they are eating enough since age can come with a reduced appetite. Making sure that your older loved one is eating, whatever food they enjoy, is most important. Eating something is better than nothing.
“Be engaged with your loved ones. The more you are engaged, the more you will see. Walk with them and talk with them,” said Dr. Chauhan. “Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them what they are having difficulties with and what you can help with. You’ll be surprised by how far that will go.”
About the Author
Ben Hoekstra is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. He previously worked in marketing and PR for various Milwaukee nonprofits and received his master’s degree in Corporate Communications from Marquette University. He enjoys the outdoors, cooking, and all things Milwaukee.