As an adult child of an aging parent, it can seem that there is one difficult discussion after another. Some involve medication adherence and eating well while others address a change of living circumstance or the need to stop driving. One of the most important conversations you need to have with your parents is how to prevent falls. It may not be an easy discussion. Naturally, your parents may feel that they know how to take care of themselves. They may insist that they are not frail. However, preventing falls is extremely important because it is a leading cause of hospitalizations among seniors. It is important to arm yourself with information about fall prevention programs, exercises that prevent falls, and common hazards in the home. Here are three things you can say to your aging parents to help them prevent falls.
The most effective way to conduct this conversation is to use the art of conversation that negotiators and facilitators use. The strategy is based on three steps that help you to tailor each step in the conversation about preventing falls. It would look like this.
Step 1: Plan what you want to say and write it down. For example, I want to talk to my parents about fall prevention. I am worried that their home is not fall safe and that their vision isn’t as sharp as it used to be. I know my father doesn’t turn on the light when he gets up at night and I am worried that is going to cause him to fall. My mother takes many medications and I don’t know if any of them affect her balance. Clarify your thoughts as you
Step 2: Tell your parents you want to have a conversation with them about fall prevention. Schedule the conversation with your parents. Call them ahead of time and tell them you want to schedule a time to talk to them about fall prevention. If they resist, be honest with them. Tell them that you are worried about them falling and it would make you feel better if they would discuss it with you. Ask them to spend half an hour talking about fall prevention with you. If they are not available at the time you planned on going to their home, reschedule it. Work with them until you have their agreement that you can visit them to discuss falls.
Step 3: Be real about your feelings. If you are uncomfortable, tell them so.When the time comes for the conversation, review your notes and remember the most important things you want to say. Open the conversation honestly and discuss your feelings: don’t try to hide them. Tell your parents why you are worried about falls. “It keeps me up at night, Mom. I worry that you will fall and I won’t know until the next day. You don’t wear an alarm. How would I ever know if you had fallen in the yard, or tripped and fell down the stairs? It worries me and I want to try to prevent that from happening.”
Once you have shared your feelings your parents may be more receptive to listening to what you have to say.
Now you have set the stage to share with them your thoughts on fall prevention. It might be a good idea to walk through the house with them and review things that can cause a fall hazard; throw rugs, long curtains, electrical cords, piles of clutter on the floor. Look at the light fixtures together and make sure that the highest wattage bulb is in each one. Conducting an inventory of the house engages your parents in the process and empowers them to make changes that will improve the safety of their home.
It isn’t easy to hold these conversations even though they are necessary. Adult children want their parents to be safe. This three-step strategy can help you to discuss falls and other difficult topics as they occur.