Expert advice


My dad doesn’t talk about his illness. How can I discuss it with him?

Some people find it very difficult to talk about an illness with family. You can use various strategies to help your father open up, but it’s possible that no matter what you try, he will remain silent. This can be hard for you and, if it is, it might help to tell him so. Unless he knows, he may not realize that talking will help you as well as him.

If your dad does start speaking, the best suggestion is to be attentive. Watch and listen for clues that tell you what your dad wants to talk about and what makes him uncomfortable. Of- ten, people who are dying are afraid of pain and other symptoms at the end of life. As your dad talks, some fears may come up. If this happens, you may want to contact a healthcare provider to help explain his illness and what to expect.


My mother is struggling with the responsibility of being her boyfriend’s caregiver, and his son (who lives far away) is unwilling to help. How can we find a long- term solution?

Eldercare mediation might be worth a try. A mediator will have experience in dealing with conflicts involving seniors and their families, and will pull the responsible parties together to discuss medical and healthcare decisions, safety, financial decisions, living arrangements and so on.

A recent study found that mediation successfully resolved eight out of 10 cases. The success rate is high because the solutions are designed by the participants themselves. Even if an agreement is not reached, the parties will walk away with the issues clarified and a better understanding of each other’s viewpoint. Geriatric case managers, nurses and social workers are often qualified to provide this service.


How can I tell my aunt with dementia that her husband has died?

Telling someone about the death of a family member is always difficult, but even more so when that person lives with dementia. Your approach should depend on the extent of your aunt’s disease, where she is living and how much she remembers.

There isn’t one approach that works for all people with dementia, but there are a few things for you to consider.

1) Have only one person break the news.

2) Choose a time when your aunt is well-rested, and find a quiet, comfortable spot to sit.

3) Use clear language such as “Your husband has died” and avoid phrases such as “passed away.” This improves the chance that your aunt will understand what she is being told.

After you have told your aunt about her husband’s death, it is important to watch how she reacts. Reading her cues will help you to connect with how she is feeling. For example, a change in her facial expression may tell you she is distressed. Responding to your aunt’s emotions will help her to feel supported and comforted. You might simply acknowledge her feelings by saying “This must make you feel sad.” Your conversation may shift into reminiscing about your aunt’s husband and their times together, which she may find comforting.


The questions in this issue of Caregiver Solutions were answered by the experts at Canadian Virtual Hospice ( and Today’s Caregiver (

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