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How to negotiate with an older parent who opposes support? Borrow These Tips From Businesses

You have reached a standstill with your mother and father, who are in their late 80s. You get the feeling that they need some help around the house, but they adamantly refuse. You are frustrated because you want to make their life easier. They are angry because they feel that you are interfering in their affairs.

Can negotiation and dispute resolution techniques used in the business world help reduce these types of conflicts?

Yes, says a group of researchers from Northwestern University. And they’re onto something.

These experts developed a training course on negotiation and conflict resolution for social workers, care managers and health care professionals who regularly work with resistant older adults. Materials are also being developed for family caregivers.

Rather than avoiding difficult issues or simply telling people what to do (“You’ll need home health aides several times a week for the foreseeable future”), professional older adults can focus on what’s most important and act as a support I learn to arrange for care, no orders from above.

“People get into a lot of arguments when they get older. It’s something I see every day in my work,” said Lee Lindquist, chief of geriatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who led the project. are leading. He said it aims to reduce conflicts and make it easier for older people to get the support they need.

In May, Lindquist and his team plan to launch another part of the project: a trial of a computer-based training program for family caregivers of people with mild cognitive impairment or early-stage dementia. The program, called NegotiAge, features avatars of older adults and allows caregivers to practice negotiation techniques under a variety of scenarios.

“You throw in different situations, different emotions, and you play the conversation game as many times as you want,” Lindquist said. About $4 million in funding for the project comes from the National Institutes of Health. After evaluating the program’s effectiveness, Lindquist hopes to make Negotiate more widely available.

In the meantime, there are several steps family caregivers can take to prevent or resolve conflict with an aging parent.


Preparation is essential for any type of negotiation, advises Jean Brett, professor emerita of conflict resolution and organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and member of the Negotiations team. “You want to think through the answers to several fundamental questions: What issues need attention? Who are the parties invested in these issues? What are the parties’ positions on each of these issues? Why do you believe they are taking those positions?” are taking? And what if we can’t reach an agreement?”

It is helpful to write down the answers to these questions in the planning document. Be sure to involve yourself between the parties and clarify your goals for the ensuing conversation.

What might this look like in practice? Let’s say you want your father, who is in his early 90s, to stop driving because he has started drifting off and has poor vision. The participants in the discussion include your father, your elderly mother, you, your two siblings and your father’s doctor.

Your mother may be concerned about your father’s safety, but reluctant to raise the issue for fear of triggering an argument. One of your siblings may agree that it’s time to pick up the car keys, while another may think that Dad is still right on the road. The doctor may recommend a driving assessment and later give their professional opinion.

look for common interests

Your job is to find areas where the interests of these parties intersect and work from there. Everyone wants your father to be active and meet his friends regularly. Everyone wants to be sure not to injure themselves or anyone else on the road. Everyone wants to respect his desire for independence. Nobody wants to disable that.

Brett distinguishes between positions, such as “I’m not going to stop driving,” and interests, or reasons for someone taking a position. In this case, the father may be afraid of being isolated, of losing autonomy, or of giving up control of his affairs. But he may also worry about inadvertently hurting someone else.

Brett said that negotiations have the best chance of success when they address the interests of all parties involved. Don’t take an antagonistic stand. Rather emphasize that you are on the same team. The goal is not for one side to win; It is up to the people to work together to find a solution to this issue.

Ask questions

Don’t assume you know why your parent is taking a certain position (“I don’t want to go to the doctor”). Instead, ask follow-up questions, such as “Why?” or “Why not?”

If an older person taunts, “I don’t want to talk about it,” don’t hold back. Acknowledge their discomfort by saying, “I understand this is difficult,” adding, “I care about you and I want to know more.”

Lindquist favors starting difficult discussions with patients with open-ended questions: “What are the things that are bothering you? What is it you do that you wish you could do differently? Will it make your life easier?

It is essential to listen attentively and to make the person you are speaking with feel heard and respected. If one of Lindquist’s patients tells her, “I make my own choices, and this is what I want,” she might respond, “I agree you’re the boss, but we’re both here to make your life better.” , and I’m worried about you.”

brainstorming strategies

Interactions with family members are often fraught with emotions that can easily spiral out of control. But if someone gets angry and abuses you, don’t retaliate.

“When you’re buying a car, if you can’t agree with the dealer you’re talking to, you can go to another dealer. When you have a dispute with a family member, you have It’s not an option. You have more stubbornness and more defensiveness about disabilities,” Brett said, “and it’s even more important to maintain relationships.”

Redirect your attention to brainstorming strategies that can help solve the problem. Be creative and keep lots of options on the table. Invite your parents to respond and ask “Why?” or “Why not?” again as needed.

If you find that you’re going in circles without making progress, try saying something like, “We could argue about this all afternoon, but neither of us is going to budge. Can do activities without their car,” Brett said.

Don’t expect to agree on a strategy right away. Lindquist suggests, “You can say, ‘Let’s bring Mom and talk about this later,’ or, ‘Let’s think about it and check in with each other next week.

bring in a third party

If all else fails, appeal to a third party. It was Brett’s strategy when her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease and compromised vision, wanted to resume driving in 2021 after recovering from a serious fall. Brett and the couple’s daughter couldn’t convince them it could be risky, but the 89-year-old agreed to get a driving evaluation at a facility attached to a Chicago hospital. When they recommended that he stop driving, he gave up the car keys.

Brett later hired a neighbor in the small French town where she now lives to ferry her husband to appointments several times a week. Twice a week, she takes him to a nearby village to have coffee with friends. He goes out into the world and she doesn’t worry about security – an outcome both can live with.

KFF Health Newsformerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), is a national newsroom that does in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the main operating programs kff—Independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.

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