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Families putting off conversations about care

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Posted on 1st December 2020.

Only a third of people say they discussed relatives’ care needs at the right time.

Only 15% know their relatives’ exact wishes regarding future care.

Discomfort, upset and arguments causing subject to be avoided.

Home care experts Helping Hands offers advice on tackling the difficult issue of home care.

With one in two people predicted to require some form of home care during their lives, the subject might be expected to be a common topic of conversation in British families. However, new research published today reveals that fewer than one in six adults (15%) have spoken to the older members of their family to know exactly what their expectations are when it comes to future care needs*.

The study for Helping Hands Home Care, one of the UK’s leading home care providers, shows that an additional 28% have spoken about it casually with their older relatives, but well over half the population (57%) have not even broached the topic.

Helping Hands Home Care has been providing dementia support, home visits and 24-hour live-in care for over 30 years. The company highlights the importance of families learning from the experience of others and having discussions about care early. The research found that of those people whose parents subsequently needed care, only 38% say that they had conversations about the possibility of it at the right time. One in five people (21%) whose parents have needed care say they wish their mum or dad had received professional help sooner and 10% say that if they had a conversation about it earlier, it could have prevented accidents in the home.

Only a quarter (25%) of those whose mum or dad have needed care were the first to raise the issue with their parents, but even so, they are almost twice as likely to have initiated the conversation than their parents themselves – just one in seven (14%) people say their parents first brought the subject up. The most common person to raise the subject was their parents’ doctor or other health professional, the instigator of the issue in just over a third (34%) of cases.

Denny Bruce, Branch Manager of Helping Hands Solihull advises families to plan for the conversation in advance and has developed a guide to help them. She says: “Broaching the subject of care early will help families have all the information they need to hand when the need for care arises, and it will enable them to fully understand and reassure their relative’s concerns. Planning in advance also gives people time to postpone the conversation if it becomes too emotional – it’s important to remain as calm as possible during the discussions.”

The research reveals how sensitive a subject the need for care can be. Of those people who have had an older relative needing care, only a third (34%) say they were happy to speak to them about it. A quarter (26%) say they were worried their relative would be uncomfortable having the conversation, and a similar number (24%) say they didn’t want their relative to think they were unwilling to help them. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they were worried about offending their relative while almost one in ten (9%) thought the conversation would lead to an argument.

Many people put off discussing the need for care with their relative because of concerns over how they themselves would react – 24% say they felt uncomfortable, while one in five (19%) say they were upset having the conversation.

Table 1: How people felt in advance of having a conversation with a relative about that relative’s future care needs

How people felt before the conversation % of people who felt that way
I was happy to speak to them about it 34%
I was worried they would be uncomfortable 26%
I felt uncomfortable having that conversation 24%
I didn’t want them to think I’m not willing to help them 24%
I was worried about offending them 23%
I was upset having that conversation 19%
I was worried that having the conversation would lead to an argument or rift in the family 9%

Unfortunately, families not broaching the subject of care can not only lead to delays in elder generations getting the support they need but can cause additional emotional turmoil for their offspring. Over a third (37%) of people say they have regrets about not talking to their loved ones about later life care at the right time.

While younger generations may feel that the onus of discussing the issue of future care falls on them, Helping Hands encourages older family members to be clear with their children and grandchildren about their wishes. Just one in ten (10%) people over 55 say they have spoken to their younger relatives to let them know exactly what their expectations are – while less than a quarter (23%) have spoken about it casually.

Andy Hogarth, CEO at Helping Hands, says: “The potential need for future care and support in the home is a conversation that many families find difficult to have and it’s unlikely to be a single discussion, but lots of conversations over a period of time. It’s important to have patience and be prepared to bring in support gradually – that way elderly relatives can get used to the idea without being overwhelmed by a sudden change in lifestyle. Having lots of conversations will also allow families to address the common obstacles we see in these situations one by one, rather than having to deal with all the challenges at the same time.”

The research found clear lessons from the experience of those people whose elder relatives have required care.

Table 2: What advice would people whose relatives have needed care give to others with a loved one potentially needing home care support?

Advice % of people who gave this advice
Make sure you ask your loved one what they want, rather than telling them what’s best 62%
Do some research about options available before tackling the conversation 51%
Have the conversations earlier than you think you need to 47%
Make sure other family members are in agreement before you have a difficult conversation 43%
Ask for support from a professional about how best to tackle the conversation 25%
Offer to interview anyone coming into the home before your loved one meets them 21%

A relative needing care is undoubtedly a turbulent time for a family, so it is not surprising that there are some negative feelings about it. One in eight (12%) said they felt as though they had failed their relative, while others said it made them feel as though they couldn’t cope or as though they weren’t enough for their relative any more (both 6%).

However, once the subject had been broached and the relative is receiving care and support, it is clear that in the majority of cases, the whole family benefits. Half (51%) of people say they felt calmer knowing their relative was being professionally looked after, while a third (34%) were relieved to have help and a quarter (26%) relieved to have some pressure taken off.

Helping Hands Home Care has produced a guide for families looking for further advice and conversation starters for these difficult conversations. Find out more here.

*Source:  Research carried out for Helping Hands by Consumer Intelligence among a nationally representative sample of 1996 UK adults, October 2020.


Lauren Knowles Campaign & Brand Manager
About Lauren Knowles joined the Helping Hands team in April 2019. Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Journalism and is a trustee for organ donation charity, Save9Lives.Read Lauren's full profile Read Lauren's full profile