Fall Safety Talking Tips

How to keep the conversation going.

Last week, I wrote about how to make it easier to start talking about fall safety with your parents.

But talking about fall prevention isn’t a one and done deal. It’s an open-ended conversation. Because your parent’s fall risk can change, and your ability to talk about those changes becomes more valuable over time.

So go easy on yourself. This is new territory. Finding your way takes takes patience, persistence, and practice.

The important thing is to keep the conversation going. Here are some key principles and talking tips that will help:

Speak and Respond With Empathy

Talking about fall prevention is about more than safety. It’s about getting older and how everyone processes the fear and feelings of loss this transition triggers.

Keep in mind that you’ve been thinking about this conversation for some time, but it’s probably a surprise to dad. 

You’ve also started to work through your feelings, another advantage dad hasn’t had. Which is all the more reason to be ready for raw emotions and mindful about your response.

Choose empathy, writes Dr. Regina Koepp, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with older adults and families:

“Soften your tone and practice listening. Listen for the anger, sadness, and fear. Don’t run away from your parents’ feelings, instead move towards them with love and care. Giving your parents the room to express themselves with you listening and being empathetic will help them adjust to changes and strengthen the relationship between you.”

Watch Your Speed

Talking too quickly can easily make your parent feel overwhelmed and pressured. 

“Pacing is critical,” writes Steven Barlam, LCSW, an Aging Life Care Professional who has worked with older parents and adult children for more than 30 years.

“I’ve seen adult children heading into conversations moving at 90 mph even though their parents may be moving at 25 mph. Often these situations result in the parent saying no to whatever is being suggested or they flatly refuse help.”

Slow down when talking to your parents, advises Barlam. “To prevent rushing, check yourself during the conversation. Does your pace match that of your family member?”

Don’t Try to Push Past Resistance

“Forcing a tough discussion or pushing for a swift decision may result in less-than-ideal outcomes,” warns Barlam. “You may spend the entire talk de-escalating a situation that arose simply because of the conversation itself, and wind up needing to postpone the talk to another time.”

Pro tip: Instead of arguing, geriatrician Leslie Kernisan, M.D.recommends using a response she describes as both neutral and encouraging: “Hmmm. Tell me more. What are you concerned about?”

Kernisan’s rule of thumb: Ask questions instead of making statements. “People really want to feel listened to and validated, not lectured to,” she says.

If the conversation hits a wall, it’s best to step back, let it go, and set a time to follow up in a couple weeks. In the interim, revisit the story you may be telling yourself about your parent’s resistance.

Do not dismiss your parent’s resistance as stubbornness, says Steven Zarit, Ph.D., a pioneering researcher on family caregiving and stress, and co-author of a study called “My Parent Is So Stubborn!

“When a child thinks, ‘My parent is stubborn,’ that’s the end of engagement with the parent,” he says. “It’s easier to have a conversation if you think ‘My mother is trying to hold on to the things that are most important to her,’ not that she’s just stubborn.”

Avoid Getting Triggered

Talking with your parents about sensitive topics can get emotional and it’s easy to get derailed by feelings about past or recent resentments. Staying present will help you stay on topic, advises Dr. Koepp:

“During this conversation, if your mind (or feelings) shift back to times in your relationship where there has been pain or conflict, or you notice that you and your parent are getting off-track, simply notice it, and shift the focus back to the topic at hand,” she writes.

“It’s important to know that this will be one of many conversations to come. So if things do get heated… or either one of you are hitting a brick wall… and you are not communicating effectively, simply say, ‘This was a good start. Let’s take a break and try again another time.'”

Collaborate, Don’t Dictate

Remember, you’re not just talking with your parent. You are talking with an adult who wants to feel relevant and respected and in control of their life. 

You are also talking with someone who has spent a lifetime giving you advice.

So ask for your parent’s advice. Ask for mom’s perspective and suggestions about how to address your concerns. Ask her to help brainstorm solutions and next steps. 

Take throw rugs, for example. They are notorious trip hazards and a leading cause of fall-related injuries. Without question, your best move is to banish them. 

But good luck opening with “Mom, that throw rug is going to kill you. It’s got to go.” That’s not a conversation. That’s an invitation to a power struggle that starts over a rug.

Instead, try this approach:

“Mom, I know you love the throw rug in the hall, but it slips and slides and the edges always curl over. What do you think we could do so no one trips?”

Again, the ideal solution is to find another home for mom’s favorite throw rug. But that remedy is more likely when it’s the result of a collaborative conversation, not a directive.

Thanks for caring,

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