We help you to get the best out of difficult discussions by voicing concerns tactfully, asking the right questions and listening carefully.

On this page we explain how you can:

1. Voice concerns
2. Listen to your relative's point of view
3. Be mindful of body language
4. Ask what your relative wants
5. Explain choices and discuss options
6. Help with making decisions

1. Voice concerns

Avoid criticising and focus on your concerns rather than the failings of the other person. For example, 'I think this,' or, 'I feel this,' is better than, 'you do this and it drives me crazy!' Don’t state your opinions as fact. You might want to say, 'I’ve noticed that you appear to be finding it harder to xxxx.' 'I might be wrong, but it looks like you’re having difficulty with xxxx'.

Remember that the tone of your voice is important too. Use a gentle and encouraging tone. Frame your concerns as questions and ask how they see things. Don’t launch straight in with opinions or instant solutions such as, 'I think this should happen' or 'you need to do xxxx' as this could end the conversation before it’s begun, or even cause an argument.

2. Listen to your relative's point of view

Taking a more active role

If you think that your relative has an illness that could impact on their decision making, you will need to postpone the decision (if you can) or take a more active role in the decision-making process. For practical advice on discussing this with someone who has dementia, see Communicating with someone who has dementia.

Communication involves both talking and listening. Active listening is very important. Encourage your relative to tell you how they are feeling and let them speak for as long as they want, or need, to explain things from their point of view. What concerns do they have?

  • Try not to interrupt or contradict.
  • Don’t give advice at this stage, unless it is specifically asked for.
  • Don’t try to offer help or solutions immediately. You need to listen to everything that they have to say first so that you understand the whole situation.
  • Show that you are listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding and smiling at appropriate times.
  • Keep an open mind. Try to put yourself in your relative’s shoes and see things from their point of view. How might they be feeling? Don’t forget that fear may initially be expressed as anger or denial. For example, your relative might be worried that their memory is failing and not want to admit that it is happening. Or they might be scared at the thought of going into a care home so appear angry at the suggestion that they need to.
  • Sympathise with any problems and give reassurance (but not false hope) where possible.
  • Read between the lines – is there anything that they are avoiding talking about? Is their body language consistent with what they are saying? Can you see if they are upset about anything in particular?

3. Be mindful of body language

  • Sit down opposite your relative, where possible. If you are facing them, you appear interested in what they are saying.
  • Stay on the same level – don’t stand up if your relative is sitting down.
  • Don’t get too close as this could come across as intimidating or aggressive in some situations.
  • If appropriate, a light touch on the arm, holding a hand or giving a hug can speak volumes, particularly when someone is upset.
  • Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation as this shows that you are interested.
  • Don’t fidget or you will look nervous and you want to create an air of relaxed calmness!
  • Don’t cross your arms as this can come across as defensive or not wanting to be open.

Think about what your relative has said and try to summarise the key points. This shows that you have been listening to them, understand how they feel and take their concerns seriously. 

Take the time to make statements such as: 'So, if I’ve understood you correctly, you are worried about xxxx and feel that xxxx?'

4. Ask what your relative wants

Give your relative an opportunity to suggest ideas, before you suggest yours. This will help him or her feel in control of the situation and give them a chance to voice their own opinions before being influenced by yours. What do they think would be the best way to address the problems that they are experiencing? What help do they want or need?

Your relative might have fixed ideas about what they want, or they might be unaware of the options available. Find out what their preferences are and what they would ideally like to happen in the future. For example, their priority might be to stay at home for as long as possible, or to move closer to family.

5 Explain choices and discuss options

Talk to your relative about the options available – this may be things that they have suggested, or options that they hadn’t thought about. Think back to any research that you’ve done and try to discuss all the relevant options and the pros and cons of each.

Try to remain impartial at this stage so that your relative has a chance to think about the options independently.

“My mum realised that she hadn’t had any panic attacks in the care home, and after talking it over she decided she’d like to give the care home another go.” Geoff's story

You might want to ‘postpone’ the conversation at this stage to give your relative time to think things through, or to find out more information about the options discussed. If you do this, make sure you schedule a time in the near future to make decisions.

6 Help with making decisions

It’s OK to give your opinion on which solution(s) you think best, but don’t assume that your views are the ‘right’ ones. Your relative might have different ideas to you about what is best for them. As long as they are able to make their own decisions (not lacking mental capacity, perhaps due to more advanced dementia, see Symptoms and care for the advanced stages of dementia), you should respect their decisions, regardless of whether you agree with them.  Offer to assist in solutions – your relative may be more likely to follow a particular course of action if they know that you will be there to help.

More information

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