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Helping Seniors Resolve Personal Issues

Helping Seniors Resolve Personal Issues

By Kevin Gardenhire | January 18th, 2018 | No Comments
Helping Seniors Resolve Personal Issues

Steven Barlam

Chief Professional Officer, Co Founder at LivHOME

We all have “unfinished business” in life – that is, messy, personal issues with our parents, siblings or exes that leave a sour aftertaste and put a damper on relationships. Usually, these are not something you’d discuss with your clients.

But what happens when your elderly clients’ unresolved issues hinder their ability to move forward with a plan that will help secure their future or get them the support and care they need?

Think of the issues as suitcases filled with “stuff.” For some people, the suitcases are small, neatly packed totes. They’re relatively unobtrusive and easy to carry around. But for others, they are ginormous trunks filled to the brim. The more complex the personal issues, the bigger the suitcases are, making it tougher to get to the desired destination.

These suitcases are often at the table with you as you discuss options for solving elderly care issues with your client. The situations, such as the loss of a family member or an acute medical condition that requires new interventions, represent new problems that are difficult enough to talk about in and of themselves. But they can also trigger issues from the past such as family conflicts to flare, getting in the way of the problem-solving process.

Is Unfinished Business Hindering Progress?

A few years ago, I worked with a man named Mark who had a strained relationship with his parents. At the time of his father’s death, Mark stepped in to assist his mother in making plans for her needs, as his father had supported his wife with some personal care tasks, housekeeping, and meal preparation. But every time he offered advice and opened his willingness to help her, she refused to accept the care she needed. From Mark’s perspective, his mother wasn’t valuing what he had to offer.

I eventually learned that feeling valued was a long-standing issue between Mark and his mother. Mark would think, “here she goes again, not valuing what I have to offer. She’s always been difficult, and that hasn’t changed.” Meanwhile, his mother’s inner dialogue went something like this: “I just lost my husband of 60 years, and now my son is coming into my life and telling me what I need to do?”

Both were grappling with unfinished business: Mark’s mom had lost her partner and some of her own ability to function autonomously, and Mark was desperate to get the validation he craved.

As a result, Mark and his mother could not have a productive conversation.

When Time is Running Out

As you may have noticed with some of your clients, handling the aging of a loved one is no walk in the park. In Mark’s case, on top of feeling desperate for his mother’s validation, he had to simultaneously grapple with the notion that his mother would not be around much longer. I call this phenomenon the “Time Factor.” Racing against the clock, Mark felt more need than ever for his mother’s approval, which placed their whole relationship on pins and needles.

And all the while, plans for helping Mark’s mother with her needs were at a total standstill. In a vicious cycle, this only increased the pressure Mark felt to come up with a long-term care plan.

When families fear that time is running out, the baggage of unfinished business inevitably becomes much heavier.

What You Can Do to Get a Senior Unstuck

In order to successfully do the job your clients have hired you for and retain their business over time in the face of unfinished business, you may need to help them unpack their bags.


Here are three tips :

Recognize the personal issues, and name them.

With a simple observation, you may help your client make a connection that could alter the way they choose to interact with unfinished business. This can help untangle things a bit. The goal of the observation is to bring your client’s unfinished business to a more conscious level, since when it resides in the “unconscious” mind, it tends to languish there, unresolved. Making an observation will help move your client toward a realization.

Imagine for example a daughter whose buttons are pushed every time her father talks glowingly about her brother (his son). Each time, she becomes angry and defensive in response. The relationship stays stuck, and this dynamic gets in the way of her ability to provide the care that her father needs. A simple observation such as, “Your father sure knows how to push your buttons” can allow for the daughter to acknowledge her own feelings and be less defensive. This, in turn, will provide her with the time and space to reflect on the problem and make a conscious choice about how she will react going forward.

Reaffirm that your clients can only control their own behavior.

When stuck, it can be easy to point fingers at other people, attributing the stalemate to their decisions or behavior. But we can’t change other people’s behavior; trying to will only lead to more frustration and certainly won’t help break the impasse. On the flip side, we can change our behavior. Discuss this with your clients, reminding them that the one thing they own and can control is their reactions and empowering them to do so.

In the case of the daughter above, you could tell her: “It sounds like your father continues not to recognize all that you have done. You may not be able to change that, but you can find power in controlling yourself and the way you react to his comments.”

Help your client find the right professionals.

Sometimes layer upon layer of conflict is hard to peel away without assistance. Geriatric care professionals and/or counselors can help with the process can lighten your clients’ load. Remind your clients that often, outside help is the key to moving forward and achieving the best outcomes.

One way to approach this is to first acknowledge that a particular piece of unfinished business isn’t new, or may not be best resolved within the family. Then, say something like, I’ve had many clients work with a professional such as a counselor, a coach, a geriatric care manager, or an Aging Life Care professional. Doing so has helped them develop solutions to improve family interactions.”

Remember, even if you think your clients’ unfinished business is none of your business, the stalemate it leads to can upend your working relationship and potentially impact your bottom line. And helping your clients become more conscious of their unfinished business and assess the areas where they do have choice and agency — whether through a simple conversation or a professional referral — can have immeasurable value added for all.

Originally published at on January 10, 2018.