It can be scary to see a loved one struggling to manage their health. When that person is your aging parent, your emotions, stress, and fears can easily escalate. Whether or not we are our parents’ primary caregiver, experiencing a role reversal where we now worry about and take care of the people who cared for us throughout our lives is an inevitable part of our parent and child relationships. And figuring out how to navigate the changes together can be difficult in a myriad of ways.
Addressing heart health with your aging parents is no exception. It’s a serious topic for all of us as we age, especially if we have a family history of heart conditions or disease. If approaching your parents about their heart health, conditions, or disease brings up uncomfortable feelings like frustration, stress, or worry, and you don’t know where to start - you’re not alone.
By finding ways to overcome the challenges you face in talking to your aging parent or parents about their heart health, preventative practices and manageable solutions can be discovered - which could lead to adding years or even saving your parents life. To help, we’ve put together some tips to help you navigate addressing and talking with your parents about their heart health.
Accepting Your Parents' Aging
As their children, many of us find it hard to accept the decline of our parents' declining health as time goes on. This intensifies if a parent is ignoring a diagnosis, neglecting their health, or avoiding the conversation, which can lead to increased frustration and tension between the two of you.
The first step in tackling any challenge is to gain a full understanding of the situation at hand. Depending on the many factors involved, from family history to daily lifestyle habits, accepting the reality of your parents aging and the factors that lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart issues, or strokes can be a tough pill to swallow.
Remembering that aging and change is a guaranteed part of life is essential to having a productive conversation around your aging parents' heart health. And the earlier you, as their children, accept change and overcome any denial, the earlier you’ll have opportunities to help them take care of their ticker.
Effective Ways to Talk to Parents About Heart Health
Healthy and productive communication is essential to our intimate relationships. While some families communicate healthily amongst themselves, many don’t. Every family is different, and each individual relationship has its own challenges, strengths, and history. These tips can help you communicate in a way that encourages a positive outcome:
Time the conversation
While there may never be a “perfect time” to have the conversation, timing does play a role in the success of any difficult conversation. Ensuring you and your parents are not already under stress or distracted can help lay a foundation for a positive conversation. For some, it may be best to schedule the conversation, picking a time when undivided attention can be planned for.
Use “I” Statements
Rather than placing blame on the listener with a “You” statement, “I” statements focus on the feelings of the speaker. By doing so, the speaker takes responsibility for their own behavior and feelings instead of blaming them on the listener, which can trigger defensiveness. “I” statements can shift the conversation to the effects of your parents declining heart health on their family, without accusing them of anything like neglect or laziness. Here’s an example of how to turn a “You” statement into an “I” statement: “You” Statement: You aren’t taking your medication, do you not care about your health? “I” Statement: I worry about you and your health when you don’t take your medication.
Keep the focus on their wellbeing
It’s not always easy to accept help, especially for parents who may be feeling overwhelmed, in denial, or embarrassed about their aging and changing circumstances. By coming from a place of care, you can assure your parents that your motivation to inspire them to live a healthier life is rooted in your love for them, as well as your desire for them to be in your life for a long time.
Encourage them to see a doctor
Especially if they’ve had previous medical trauma, a recent negative diagnosis, or are neglecting or in any denial of their aging, convincing an aging parent to consult with their doctor can be difficult. If so, try using an “I” message, and explain to them that you are worried about their heart health and ask them to see the doctor so you, as their child, can stop worrying. It also may be helpful to offer to go with them, to support them as well as take notes and ask their doctor important questions to alleviate them from the stress of doing so.
While each parent/adult child relationship comes with a unique set of difficulties, the important thing is to find a communication style and process that works best for the both of you. Once you can find common ground, you can tackle your aging parents' heart health as a team, finding solutions together and addressing the serious issue of their heart health without adding more stress to the situation.
Assessing Your Parents Current Heart Health
In order to talk to your aging parents about their heart health, and support them in making a heart health plan, you’ll need to have a full understanding of their health and daily lifestyle. Once you have an understanding of your parents’ current health status, you can better understand their potential risk for heart disease and other health conditions for which they may or may not be doing anything to prevent.
To best assess your aging parent’s current heart health, you’ll need to gather information about the following:
- Their recent health history, including how recently they had a complete check-up with physician-recommended laboratory testing
- Family history of heart health and conditions
- Current medications and dosage amounts
- Current dietary practices
- Amount of daily/weekly exercise
- Any heart-related issues they are currently experiencing (chest tightness, trouble breathing, lightheadedness, etc.)
- Other health conditions/complications they are experiencing, e.g., are they overweight?
If you don’t live under the same roof or if you feel your parents aren't telling you the whole story, it can be difficult to get a full view of their health habits, like their diet and amount of exercise. In that case, it may be best to spend a couple consecutive days with them in their home to observe their day-to-day life and overall health, if possible.
Measures to Support Your Heart at Every Age
As a bonus, learning about your parents' heart health can give you a better understanding of your own. For healthy adults of all ages, ensuring you’re eating a balanced diet, enjoying regular exercise and activity, eliminating tobacco intake, reducing alcohol intake, limiting stress, and getting plenty of rest provide your heart with the lifestyle it needs so you can live a long and healthy life. It’s also important to give your heart the supplement support it needs, like Ubiquinol, which plays a key role in producing the cellular energy your organs need to keep functioning optimally.
If you find yourself experiencing increased levels of stress, sleepless nights, and overwhelm while talking with your aging parents about their heart health, don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Taking time to recharge and reset yourself can do wonders for keeping you calm and confident while navigating what can be an overwhelming process.
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The Best Time To Start Talking Is Now
Though it’s not always easy, it’s important to start talking with your aging parents about their heart health earlier, rather than later. By keeping these tips in mind, you can work together to navigate the many emotions and situations that may arise through open and honest conversations. With a better understanding between each other, it becomes easier to support your parents to implement lifestyle changes to keep their hearts healthy or better react to a recent diagnosis, reducing your collective stress and keeping your worries to a minimum.