Importance of Senior Safety at Home
I will never forget the afternoon my 67-year-old mother and I dropped in to visit my 92-year-old grandma and discovered her dusting the top of her refrigerator—standing atop a wobbly dining room chair.
Panic doesn’t begin to cover it.
That was the day we sat down and had The Talk. The one about wearable medical alert systems.
We’d never had to have The Talk about car keys, because Grandma never learned to drive, so we were in uncharted waters. And frankly, we didn’t do so well. Mom and I got a great deal wrong. Objections were raised and ignored. Feelings were hurt. Voices were raised.
In the end, Grandma did agree to get a fall detection medical alert system. But I wish we’d have taken a few minutes to settle our emotions and had done a bit of research on how to communicate with seniors and approach the issue with more sensitivity and compassion. There are ways to make such discussions easier for everybody.
I tucked away several lessons that day for future difficult caregiver conversations. As the only child, I’ll eventually assume the role with Mom, but for now, that day still looks a long way off. This year we’re planning Grandma’s 100th birthday and Mom’s not slowing down yet—a mere child, comparatively, at 75.
Having The Talk: How to Talk to Seniors for Best Results
1. Overcoming Objections by Listening
Deal with objections by listening to what they mean, not just what they say. I don’t need it. It’s too much money. So much fuss! All of Grandma’s objections to a wearable personal emergency response system (PERS) were short, but that didn’t mean they were simple. We had to listen past what she said to get to the heart of what she meant.
- I don’t need it meant “I don’t want to feel old and vulnerable.” That was a tough one to overcome, honestly. In the end, we settled on “We love you and we want you around for a long, long time.”
- It’s too much money meant “I worry about my bills.” We pointed out that medical alert systems and devices were so much more affordable than hospitalization, and that everybody’s peace of mind was priceless.
- So much fuss meant “You’re coming in too fast and too hot right now. Let’s talk about it later.”
2. Focus on Unknowns and Gaps
I used The Talk as an opportunity to remind Grandma how she used to worry when I visited her from two states away back in college, and how she’d wait up until midnight until I finally called to assure her I’d arrived home safely. Meanwhile, Mom said that, while she was comforted that Grandma’s neighbors checked up on each other every day, she was concerned about long gaps between early dinners and late morning check-ins. A lot could happen in 16 long, lonely hours.
3. Present Facts, Figures, and Evidence
Don’t try to argue, and don’t base your side of the discussion on logic alone. Why not? Because that’s a recipe for the backfire effect—a curious phenomenon that causes folks to resist changing their when data conflicts with their original position. Instead, try to incorporate evidence about personal medical alert systems within the context of a loving, caring conversation in different ways.
4. Use I-Statements as Much as Possible
While it’s easy to dismiss facts and figures, it’s harder to argue with a caregiver’s feelings. Keeping the focus on you and your fears and hopes may create a graceful opening for cooperation: OK, I’m not getting this medical alert device this for me. I’m doing it for you, my caregiver.
“Mom, I saw on the news that hospitals see somebody who has fallen down every 11 seconds and that really worried me. If something happens in the middle of the night, a phone with built-in 5Star urgent response could send help in just a couple of minutes. That would really ease my mind.”
“Uncle Joe, I read the other day that half of people over 80 fall every year. That made me sad because I hate to think of you losing your independence. I also learned that when people do fall, they often don’t actually get hurt and just need a little help getting up. This is why I’d like to talk to you about getting a medical alert device that could help keep you safe no matter where you are.”
5. Timing is Everything
In retrospect, we should have turned the medical alert device into a gift, with bows and glitter and a message that we were giving it to her to celebrate and preserve her independence. Instead, The Talk was tied to our freak-out over finding her standing on a chair. Poor choice, caregivers. Poor choice. That turned the personal emergency response system into something punitive rather than what it is–something incredibly empowering.
Finally, I’ve also begun to realize that medical alert devices aren’t just for aunts, uncles, moms and dads. As a woman who lives alone and is (true story) an enormous klutz, it’s only a matter of time. I trip over dust mites. I stumble over my own toenails. I took a crashing headlong dive over a piece of furniture at my boyfriend’s place recently. Luckily, the only things bruised were my ego and a knee.
But if I fall one night over the one tiny little step from my living room to my kitchen? And my phone is upstairs charging on my computer? What then? Maybe it’s time for somebody to have The Talk with me, too.
Please be gentle.