Simple Strategies for Talking About the Future with Aging Parents

senior man with daughter© Hemera/Thinkstock
Take the First Step
It can be heartbreaking to watch your parents as they struggle to maintain the home they love, keep up with doctor visits, budget for expensive medications, and simply try to take care of each other. You know they need support – and they probably know it too, though they may not be willing to admit it – so how do you know when it’s time to voice your concerns? There are no easy answers, but the first step is initiating the conversation that must happen.

Be Prepared for an Uphill Battle
If a parent has become forgetful, if you notice your mother’s memory slipping, or that your father repeats the same things over and over again, it can be frustrating to know that whatever you discuss with them may go unheard, or forgotten. Even if your parents are fully cognizant of their surroundings and situation, they may avoid a discussion about needing care.

This is normal. Put yourself in their shoes. They’ve managed their own lives for decades. It is breaking their hearts to be limited, to not do what they’ve always done, to have their bodies fail on them when their minds are active and strong. They don’t want to be a burden and they simply want to hang on to their capabilities.

Be prepared for your parents to interpret your concern as an attack on their independence, no matter what approach you take. This is why the conversation must happen in person – not over the phone, and certainly not via email. This is a discussion that may literally require hand-holding, and you need to see your parents’ reactions as much as they need to read your body language and feel your genuine concern.

Be Respectful
Remember when you were young and someone would talk down to you? Or when no one listened to your opinion because you were, well, just a child? That kind of treatment doesn’t feel good – no matter what age a person is. While some older adults may need to be handled with kid gloves when it comes to talking about the kind of care they now require, there is one constant: Everyone wants to be heard and treated with respect.

Plan your conversation before you begin it so that you can avoid making your parents feel patronized or criticized. Approach your parents gently, respectfully, and ask them questions that will not make them feel bad or guilty about their declining health and abilities. Ask your parents how you can help; don’t merely tell them, “You need help.” Ask your parents what their ideal outcome looks like, then do your best to find a match for their wishes, be it home care, a retirement community, or assisted living facility.

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