Having family conversations about aging issues and long term care can be difficult. But families that plan in advance – before problems arise – make these conversations more reasonable than some may fear. An AARP survey found that most parents feel better about having this kind of discussion when things are going well, as part of the planning for their future. By knowing their wishes, you’ll be better able to help your parents live life the way they wish to live.
Here are some tips to help you and your loved ones navigate conversations about independence and staying home.
Plan the Conversation
It’s always helpful to plan a sticky conversation. One of the ways to break the ice might work for you and your family.
Approach the subject indirectly:
Be direct, but non-confrontational:
Watch for openings:
Share your own feelings about your parents’ changing life:
Make a List
Family members are sometimes uncomfortable jumping right into a talk about sensitive topics, such as finances. If so, consider giving them a list of questions or concerns and schedule a time to talk. This lets them think about the kinds of help they may need and prepare for the conversation.
Dealing with Resistance
Some resistance to talking about independence is normal. They may put you off with reassuring statements or tell you to mind your own business. But experts advise:
Focus on Key Points
Guessing your parents’ wishes for their future can lead to bad mistakes and hard feelings. Ask them about their own thoughts about their current needs and concerns, worries about the future, and hopes and goals for their older years. While you don’t want to ask all these questions in one conversation, focus your talks on these major areas.
Where they live: Is your home still ok for your needs? Can you still manage the stairs? Would making some simple home modification help? Should you think about living somewhere else?
Everyday activities: Do you need help with running the house and doing chores? Yard work? Can you hear a knock at the door or the phone ring?
Getting around: Can you get to your doctor visits? Is driving getting hard? Are you getting out to see friends? Getting to the store ok? Can you get to religious services?
Health: What health problems do you have? Are your prescriptions current? Are you having trouble paying for your medicine? Do you need help remembering when to take your pills?
Money: This topic is particularly tricky so you may want to be less direct. Do you need help getting government or pension benefits? Do you want your Social Security deposited directly in the bank? Have you thought about getting extra income from a reverse mortgage? Do you have any bills you can’t pay? Is all your financial information in one place?
Paying for health care: What kind of health insurance do you have? Has it paid your bills so far? Do you have long-term care insurance? Would you like some help filling out insurance claim forms? Do you have questions about Medicare?
Keep It Positive
Avoid role reversal. Talking to parents and helping them doesn’t mean you are “parenting” them. In your talks, treat each other as equals.
Be prepared to let our parents make their own choices, even if you don’t agree with them. As long as they are not impaired with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, your parents have the right to make their own decisions. Growing older does not give up that right. Even when they make what you think is an unsafe choice, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are no longer capable of living independently. If their choices disturb you, you may need to set your own limits to how involved you can be, so that their decisions don’t run your life.
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