It can be difficult to broach a subject that might upset a loved one. If you need to discuss something important, a little planning should help things go more smoothly.  

On this page we give you information about:

1. Reasons for a having a conversation
2. Getting ready to talk
3. Starting a conversation

Reasons for having a conversation

There are likely to be many reasons for why you need to talk sensitively with your relative about their future.

It might be that he or she approaches you to discuss care options, or to ask for your help and advice. But in many cases it is likely to be you and other family members who are the first to recognise problems, or realise that changes need to be made.

“We had always talked as a family about planning for disabilities, my parents realised that a property miles from anywhere wasn’t suitable in their seventies.” Elizabeth's story

It can be tempting to stay quiet in order to avoid upsetting your relative. But if you have serious concerns about his or her health, safety or wellbeing it is important to speak up. The sooner you talk about it, the sooner you can identify the problems and help your relative to do something about them.

It can be particularly difficult if you need to discuss a sensitive issue, such as deteriorating health or future care options, but talking about the situation is the first step towards making positive changes.

There are many reasons why you may feel you need to talk to your relative in relation to their care. Below are just a few examples.

Getting ready to talk

To increase your chances of a positive response, think about the conversation in advance. Consider what you want to say, how you're going to say it and when would be the best time for a chat. Blurting things out in the heat of the moment is rarely effective.

Choose the right time: choose a time when your relative is most likely to be receptive to a conversation. It’s probably best not to bring up a difficult subject late at night when people are tired. Choose a time when you’ll be able to talk about the issues without feeling rushed – for example, don’t start a difficult conversation just before your relative’s carer is due to arrive, or five minutes before you have to leave for work. Give your relative ample time to express their views and discuss options.

Choose the right place: choose somewhere quiet and private where you are unlikely to be interrupted. If it is likely to be an emotional or difficult conversation, try to have it at home, where your relative feels comfortable, rather than in a public place.

Who should be there?: if there is a particular person that your relative is close to, and is more likely to listen to, ask if they can come along with you. Chat to this person beforehand so that you both understand the issues and what you are trying to achieve. Don’t involve too many people or your relative might feel that you are ganging up on them.

Plan in advance: think about what you are going to say so that your message is clear. If there are particular things worrying you, or specific issues that you need to discuss, jot down a list of key points beforehand.

Be informed: it can help to do some research into the facts beforehand. Check out any relevant areas of our website – for example on  Sheltered housing, Care homes or Benefits and allowances for the elderly so that you can explain options and answer questions if asked. You might want to take along leaflets, printouts or a laptop so that you can look at information together.

The NHS has a set of shared decision making tools online. These are specially designed to help people make decisions about difficult healthcare options. Among these is a decision aid to help gain a greater understanding about different places of care towards the end of life. You might find it helpful to look at this set of steps before you talk to your relative.

Starting a conversation

When it’s time to talk, it’s important to put your relative at ease – get a cup of tea, act naturally, smile and Be mindful of your body language. If you appear relaxed, your relative will feel more comfortable and is more likely to listen to what you have to say.

Opening lines

Make it clear from the beginning that this is a two-way discussion with your relative’s best interests at heart. Your aim is to identify any concerns that he or she has, or any problems that he or she is experiencing, so that you can decide, together, how best to tackle them. For example, you might say:

'You know that I love you/care about you and want the best for you.'

'Is there anything that is worrying you or that you are having difficulty with?'

'I would like to talk about xxxx so that we can work out if there’s anything we can do to make your life easier/more comfortable.'

'I would like to make sure that you are happy with xxxx. If not, there might be things that we can do together to help.'

More information

  • How to communicate effectively: further guidance on how to get the best out of a difficult conversation with your relative.
  • Care services directory: find out about the domiciliary care agencies available for support in the home, local authority services for older people and care homes.
  • Paying for care: advice and information about the options available for financing care.

Page last reviewed: 31 January 2016
Next review due: 30 November 2017