Why don’t we talk?

We all know it’s a good idea to have conversations about care, help at home and future plans, but we often put them off for various reasons.

You might:

  • worry about suggesting the wrong thing because you lack confidence or knowledge
  • want to protect family members and not want them to worry
  • want to avoid talking about options such as going into residential care
  • feel the time isn’t right
  • live too far away or not have time to have a proper conversation.

Your relative or friend may be putting off the conversation for similar reasons. They may feel worried or frustrated when they think about future changes, scared of losing their independence or not want to upset you by talking about their end of life plans, for example.

I think, oh I won’t say anything, leave it… you don’t always tell them because they’re going to worry.

Putting off these conversations until there’s a crisis and you have to act quickly means making decisions under pressure. In addition, your relative or friend may no longer have the ability to express their wishes if they have lost mental capacity. Mental capacity means having the ability to understand, retain and use information to make and express decisions about your life. People may lose mental capacity temporarily or permanently. It can happen over time or very suddenly. It’s better to be prepared and have arrangements in place before anything happens. By planning ahead, you’ll be better equipped for any unpredictable moments life may throw at you and your relative or friend.

If you're in a crisis situation and need to make decisions quickly, there is help available. You can call the Independent Age Helpline for free, impartial advice.

You don’t have to push someone into talking if they’re reluctant to do so. A good first step is simply letting them know that you’ll be there to listen to and support them once they’re ready to talk. Be patient, because things aren’t normally resolved in one conversation. It can sometimes take months or years to develop the mutual trust and understanding to have open and honest conversations about advanced life planning.

One of the important things is getting your children to realise that you’re not going to be here much longer. They think you’re going to go on forever.


Why it’s good to talk

You may have noticed your relative could do with some extra help at home or may need to move into more suitable housing. Or perhaps you want to know about your friend's wishes for the end of their life so you can be sure any decisions made on their behalf would be what they wanted. This can feel difficult at the beginning. But there are lots of good reasons for starting a conversation about sensitive subjects:

  • it can give both of you peace of mind for the future
  • you can get arrangements in place ahead of time
  • knowing their wishes means they are more likely to be met if they are unable to make or communicate a decision in the future
  • you can find out what’s important to them and avoid any family arguments and stress
  • decisions won’t have to be made in a rush later – you can take your time and think them over now.

It’s much easier to have conversations earlier on, before your relative or friend needs any extra help. You’ll both have time to think about all the possible options, rather than having to rush and decide on something that needs to happen soon. Talking doesn’t have to just be about solving a problem and moving on. It can give them a space to express themselves and share their stories and thoughts. By doing so, you can both get a better picture of what’s important to them. Start small, go slow and talk often.

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