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Five tips for talking to the people you love about their health

Many of us want to help our parents or other people we love as they age. But, we have no idea how to help. For sure, engaging them in conversation is already a big help. If you want to talk to your loved ones about their health, here are five tips for beginning the conversation:

  1. Don’t assume that because your loved ones haven’t shared their health concerns with you that they don’t have any. They may not want to waste your time or cause you any worry. And, if your loved one is uncomfortable, or possibly ashamed, sharing private information even with family members, a more successful approach may begin with gentle expressions of support rather than pressure to accept help.
  2. Express your support to help them maintain a high quality of life and get everything they need from their doctors.  You could ask them what they have heard about health buddies, or a health care proxy. Let them know that sharing their concerns with you or a health care buddy they trust can help ensure they get the care they need. If you sense reticence, consider asking an open-ended question, such as, ‘How can I help you make sure you are getting the care you need from your doctor?”, or “What would be the most important thing for me to know about your health?” This might be more helpful than, “Is there anything I should know about your health.” or “Is your doctor taking good care of you?”
  3. If they are living at home independently, remember that they may be scared to voice their concerns for fear of losing that independence.
  4. If they are worried about spending money on themselves, keep in mind that they might not be addressing a health condition because of the cost.  But the cost of the service may be far less than the risks of not getting treatment. Let them know that there are often free and low-cost resources for people with low incomes.   
  5. Finally, explain to them that it’s generally helpful to have a buddy with you at the doctor’s office to hear what the doctor is recommending, take notes, and make sure all important issues are raised, like medication side effects.

Remember, everyone’s different. Some of us feel our age and some of us feel like we’re still in college.  Some of us like to talk about our health and some of us keep our conditions to ourselves.  Some of us assume that we should have health problems in older age and don’t take the time to go to the doctor and some seek treatment whenever they have a new symptom.

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