Q: I'm a professional woman, a wife, a mom, and currently the primary influencer of my elderly mother. Lately, she has begun to have difficulty coping with the realities of her changing physical and mental health. Because of her congestive heart condition and increasing memory problems, I recently suggested that we start thinking about an assisted-living facility or continuing-care retirement community. Rather than engaging in a rational conversation, she became hostile and started yelling at me. How can I handle the situation better next time so that we can reach some sort of solution?

A: It's important to realize that some aspects of your mother's behavior may be beyond her control and could be related to her current health conditions. Recognize that you are not really the target; she is most likely acting out of frustration and possibly fear about her current situation. Try to be sensitive to the fact that many people in midlife and beyond do not 'feel' their chronological age, so all of these potential changes probably feel quite foreign to her.

Perhaps you are experiencing guilt about the entire situation, too. I would love tell you to stop feeling this way, but I understand this is often easier said that done. Therefore, you should allow yourself to feel the guilt'but then move on and access the situation in a rational manner. Continue to remind yourself that you have your mother's best interests in mind.

The next time you bring up the subject with her, be gentleand do not assume that she will respond in a rational manner. It will be much more productive if you simply accept her behavior and allow her to blow off as much steam as she needs. Once she has vented her emotions, she will be much more capable of carrying on a normal conversation.
After you speak with your mother, do not keep your emotions to yourself. You deserve to vent, too'so talk with someone you trust about how the situation made you feel. Do not, though, rely on him or her to come up with a solution.

A different route to take may be to arrange for your mother's doctor to bring up the issue of an assisted living home or continuing care retirement community at her next appointment. The same ideas coming from her doctor may trigger less hostility and could open the door to a more rational and productive discussion.

Dr. Rudow is the president of BTR Inc., a consulting and training firm whose work ranges from individual counseling to complete organizational reengineering. In addition, he is an accomplished public speaker who serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia Union College in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Rudow holds a B.A. in psychology from Rutgers University and a M.S. and Ph.D. in psychology from Colorado State University.