Welcome Wisdom

Communication for the Aging Family

by Felicia Juntunen, MA, CMC, Director of Care Management

We started off 2024 discussing the challenge of long-distance caregiving and provided some tools for families who find themselves geographically remote from their aging loved ones. Like geography, family dynamics can also impact family communication around the needs of an aging family member. All families, by their very nature, are complex and each family member has their own history and story that they bring with them to this season in their aging loved one’s life. Aging Life Care professionals regularly interact with families who are experiencing distress because of communication breakdown. Lack of information, differing perspectives and expectations, are common reasons for communication strife in families dealing with the challenges of aging. Fortunately, our experience shows that many communication conundrums can be overcome when families have support to help hone the focus on meeting the needs of their aging loved one.

Providing accurate information is one of the areas of support a care manager can offer to help enhance family communication. Families may be dealing with inadequate information about their loved ones’ status, a situation that can cause difficulty and disagreement in making decisions about care needs. An assessment by a care manager can help clarify and provide accurate information about an older adult’s current challenges, how those may be impacting their functioning, and what some solutions may be to address their needs. A care manager can also connect the older adult and their family with community resources, provide monitoring of a person’s status and well-being, and update and assist family members as changes occur. Care managers can also provide information and support to family members navigating how to communicate with a loved one who is living with dementia.

The observations and insights of a care manager can also address family members’ differing perspectives about an aging loved one’s status and needs as well as their expectations of the aging adult and one another. Care managers help explore differing perspectives, determine common ground, and prioritize goals. They can also help identify where each family member may best contribute their effort and energy to provide support. Information and objective insight from a care manager can help families adjust their expectations of each other and their aging loved one, to have a better understanding of what is reasonable considering the circumstances.

A care manager’s goal is to help families find what works best for them when it comes to talking about the challenges and difficult subjects associated with their aging family member. Family meetings are one avenue to accomplish working toward finding what works best for a family. Consider enlisting an objective facilitator, whether a care manager or other neutral third party. If an aging loved one is beginning to experience health or living concerns, now is the time to start the conversations. Waiting until there’s a crisis to call a

family meeting can lead to limited options and restricted participation in decision-making. In our experience as care managers, we’ve found that families who begin conversations earlier rather than later are more successful. Advance communication leads to information gained before a crisis happens and, therefore, better outcomes for older adults and their families.