Conversation Starters

Five ways to make talking about fall safety easier.

Last week, I wrote about how to get your head right before trying to talk with your parents about fall safety.

Today we’ll cover how to start the conversation, so it feels a lot less awkward than the moment you realized mom and dad wanted to talk about the birds and bees.

But first, a few words about where you talk. Because it matters.

“The Setting Is Crucial”

Quiet moments and private places create the best conditions to connect without distractions or interruptions.

“The setting is crucial,” writes geriatric psychology expert David Solie. His advice: Steer clear of noisy restaurants and take a walk or a drive.

“Some discussions are best approached from the side, not head on… A walk provides a kind of safety shield, another focus in an interesting venue, especially when the topics are difficult…”

“A drive is like a walk on wheels. When we are having trouble resolving an important issue, getting in the car and going somewhere or nowhere at all can take the conversation in a new direction. As with a walk, this exchange does not have to be face-to-face and might make the older person feel more comfortable…”

Ready to get the ball rolling? Here are some approaches that make talking about fall safety easier.

Tell a Story About a Friend

Humans are hard-wired to listen to stories. Stories are how we learn from the experience of others. And stories that create an emotional response are powerful when we see ourselves in a similar situation. For example:

“Someone at work told me her parents are redoing their bathrooms and adding safety features like grab bars and better lighting. It’s part of a plan to make their home easier and safer to live in as they get older. Is that something you’ve ever thought about?”

Or:

“How are you doing with the stairs? I was thinking about what happened to my friend’s mother. It made me realize that a bad fall can happen to anyone. I’m worried that could happen to you and I want to be prepared. Can we talk about that?”

Use an Article or Website

This is an easy, non-threatening way to back into a conversation because it’s indirect. For example:

“Mom, I read this article, and it raised a number of issues that got me thinking. What do you think?”

Or:

“My friend sent me a link to this website about simple things people do stay safe at home as they get older. I’d like to send it to you and get your opinion.”

Here are three brief articles from the National Council on Aging. Choose one you think is likely to work for you:

What Happens in an Emergency?

Older adults who aren’t surefooted are often able to manage predictable everyday (and nighttime) routines. But emergency situations are a different story.

When safety depends on awareness, agility, and quick action, older adults are particularly vulnerable. Even minor accidents can have major consequences.

“What if you fall and you can’t call someone for help or if there is a power outage or a fire? These situations can go from bad to worse quickly, especially if you are injured.”

Have You Talked With Your Doctor?

Consider this approach if your parent is living with a chronic health condition, or if you’ve noticed changes that could increase fall risk:

“Have you talked with your doctor about how to make things safer at home? I’ll be happy to come with you if you think it would be helpful to get expert advice.”

Of course, it’s possible the last person dad wants to see is his doctor. But it’s also possible that your concern moves him to make that call.

Either way, the sooner your parent sees their doctor, the better. Changing health conditions and new medications can affect fall risk. The doc can also prescribe a functional home safety assessment from an occupational or physical therapist.

When Mom Won’t Hit the Ball Back

Don’t kid yourself: Mom knows why you’re showing her an article about fall prevention. 

So, if your efforts are met with all the enthusiasm of hitting a tennis ball into a wet blanket, or the conversation doesn’t develop naturally, don’t push it.

You’ve planted a seed. Don’t expect the tree to grow overnight. Give her space and try a different approach at a later time. 

Pro tip: If mom is still reluctant, offer to set a time limit: “Let’s just spend ten or 15 minutes talking. If you want to talk longer, great. If not, that’s fine, too.” 

Why this might work: Awkward conversations aren’t easy. Having a clear time-bound agreement about when to stop talking can make it easier to start. And all you need to do is make a start. 

When time is up, ask mom if she wants to continue. If not, tell her you’d like to set another time to follow up.

Next week: Tips to keep talking.

Thanks for caring,

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