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Communicating About Sensitive Subjects
A Guide for Family Conversations

Seniors, are there questions and topics you wish you could raise with your adult children, and other subjects you'd rather not discuss with them?

Boomers, are there conversations you'd like to have with your parents as they age, but just don't know how to start?

If you are finding it difficult to communicate with your relatives about sensitive subjects, you are not alone. As parents age, many families are hesitant to bring up important topics such as independent living, health, medications, driving, money, end-of-life wishes and legacies, and relationships. Research by the international caregiving company Home Instead Senior Care showed that "nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. say they have a major communication obstacle with their parents that stems from continuation of the parent-child role … rather than a peer-to-peer model…"

Other barriers to communication between seniors and their adult children include a fear of losing one's independence, a desire to protect one's own privacy or to respect another's privacy, a reluctance or inability to acknowledge some of the changes that aging brings, and a lack of clear guidelines for having such conversations.

Each family has its own patterns and ways of relating, but one thing that families have in common is love. Seniors and their adult children care about each other. As they age, their roles evolve, and often they are also trying to take care of each other. Consider the following examples:

If you're a "boomer" age 40 or older, or if you're a senior age 70 or older, this is the time to start discussing important topics with each other and to make decisions that will affect your lives in the future. Instead of waiting for a crisis, take the time now to open conversations, gather information, reflect, discuss again, make appropriate changes now and plan for the future. Honesty and mutually respectful communication are the keys to overcoming the barriers; the reward is everyone's peace of mind.

Suggestions for adult children to enhance communication with their aging parents:
These are offered by Home Instead Senior Care and communication expert Jake Harwood, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona.

Tips to help seniors communicate with their adult children:
These are offered by Dr. Jake Harwood.

Act Now and Relax: Guidelines for Older Adults and their Families
In order to ensure that your wishes are known and respected, prepare or update these vital documents now:

This article summarizes key points in "The 40-70 Rule: A Guide to Conversation Starters for Boomers and Their Senior Loved Ones" and "The 70-40 Rule: A Guide to Conversation Starters for Seniors and Their Boomer Children." Home Instead, Inc.,,

Five Wishes. Aging with Dignity,

Harwood, Jake, Ph.D. Understanding Communication and Aging (Sage Publications, 2007)

Myers, Jo. Good to Go – The ABCs of Death and Dying: The Ultimate Planning Guide for Baby Boomers and Their Parents.

Silverstone, Barbara and Helen Kandel Hyman. You and Your Aging Parent. (New York, Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, 1989).

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide