Having the “Talk” with Parents Can Be a Delicate Matter
Talking with parents about issues involving their health , long term care, finances, health care proxies, or their thoughts about their final wishes, can be as difficult as the talk you had years ago about the birds and the bees. Yet, these conversations need to occur; and often times, the conversation should occur sooner, rather than later. In fact, these talks should take place when things are going well, before there is a crisis.
As with most events, planning ahead is best, and often makes everyone involved feel better. It also gives aging parents the opportunity to express their wishes for the future.
Although the talk can be like walking a tight rope, here are some suggestions for Adult children on how to handle conversations on future care needs.
- Start with an icebreaker. “I just read an article about how important it is to have all of your important documents, such as a living will, insurance policies, health care proxies, and legal documents in one place. Can you show me where all of your documents are located and what you would like us to do in case of an emergency?”
- Approach the subject indirectly. For example, “Mom, I know you’re taking lots of pills. How do you keep track of them? Would a pill organizer from the drug store help you?”
- Be direct, but non-confrontational. “Dad, I’m worried that you seem to be unsteady on your feet. I’m wondering how we can help protect you from falls.”
- Listen for openings. “Mom, you mentioned having problems with your eyesight. Have you seen the eye doctor lately? Does it seem to affect your driving?”
- Share your feelings. “Dad, you’ve always been so independent, and I imagine it’s hard to ask for help. But remember, you can always ask us for help if you need to, or we can find someone who can help you.”
Helpful tips to consider:
- Make a list of questions or concerns for your parents. Share this list with your parents so they can think about and be prepared for the conversation.
- Expect some resistance, but above all:
- Respect your parents’ feelings if they make it clear they want to avoid the subject. Try again at a later time. …but not too late.
- Push the issue if health or safety is at risk, while recognizing your parents’ right to be in charge of their lives.
- Research community resources that can help a parent remain independent, including home care, meal delivery or transportation.
- For example, most people refer to remain in their current home and today there are options that bridge the spectrum from living totally independently to being in long-term care. Many elderly people, even those with early-stage Alzheimer’s, manage to live within the comfort and familiarity of their homes because of the various community services that now exist. Many, for example, prefer live-in care, with a trusted caregiver, over being moved to a nursing home. Senior only independent housing, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) and assisted living all offer housing options.
- Keep it positive and treat your parents as equals. Even if they have made what you consider to be an unsafe choice, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are no longer capable of living independently.
- Expect that the discussion will be ongoing rather than a “one shot” deal.
- Make a plan. The plan doesn’t have to be all-inclusive or extensive. You can never prepare for every scenario, but the plan should include immediate needs and broader plans for the future.
- Step back and evaluate. Determine if the plan meets the need right now. Do you need to suggest that your parents talk with a third party – an estate planner, financial expert, attorney, and/or a family doctor or close friend?
Once the initial “talk” has begun, it will become easier for parent and child to hold future discussions and lower stress levels. Initiating the talk is often the most difficult part. Be open – express your love and concern, and most importantly, listen.