Be Prepared and Make a List

How and when to approach your parents to discuss “private issues” can be a task easily put-off. Initiating that talk is often the most difficult part. Don’t put it off any longer.

Try to remember where they are in the context of their own lives. It is a different – and possibly difficult – “place” for our aging parents and seniors. Expect some resistance from one or both parents. Listen for their input.

Preparation and thoughtfulness are very helpful qualities for children of elderly parents when confronting this “aging issue” as it relates to your own family. Make a list for your parents with questions or concerns – this will help them address concerns and prepare for a more open communication with you.

Helpful Tips to Break the Ice

Here are some general recommendations to consider on broaching private issues with your elderly parents.

1.) Focus on key points and ask your parents for their own thoughts regarding their current needs and concerns and their worries about the future – rather than guessing, which can lead to bad mistakes and hard feelings. Ask about the location of such important documents as insurance policies, wills, health care proxies, living wills, trust documents, tax returns, and investment and banking records.

2.) Keep it positive and treat them as equals. Even if they make what you consider an unsafe choice, it doesn’t necessary mean they are no longer capable of living independently.

 3.) Expect that the discussion will be ongoing rather than a “one shot” deal. Each time the topic is revisited, it should become more comfortable.

 4.) Step back and evaluate. This might include suggesting that your parents talk with a third party – an estate planner, financial expert or attorney – if you think they could use some expert advice.

Keep in mind, this may be a difficult task involving your parents, and they may be extremely private on such subjects. Above all…

– Respect your parents’ feelings if they make it clear they want to avoid the subject. Try again at a later time.

– Push the issue if health or safety is at risk, while recognizing your parents’ right to be in charge of their lives.

– Act firmly, but with compassion. For example, “Dad, we need to deal with this now.”

– Hold a family meeting where everyone discusses concerns and together develops a mutually agreeable plan – giving your parents a sense of involvement and control over their lives.

– Consider the involvement of other people your parents’ respect. This may include a member of the clergy, an attorney, or a close family friend.

Look for community resources that can help a parent remain independent, including home care, meal delivery or transportation. For example, most people prefer 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 and Assisted Living all offer housing options.

Physicians and geriatric social workers warn that there are a number of danger signs that indicate that an elderly person needs extra help or an immediate change in their living arrangement. As a result, note any marked change in personality or behavior. However, no major lifestyle changes should be made without discussions with the elderly loved one, other family members, and health professionals.

Once the ice is broken, it will become easier for parent and child to hold meaningful discussions.