Where to Start

Aging and Illnesses – There is no getting around it.

Unfortunately, conversations about preparing for aging/Illnesses often do not happen. At least not as soon as they should.  Whether about long-term senior care and finances, health care, end-of-life decisions, driving, or safety around the house.

The best advice is to plan carefully and think through such conversations so that they are as positive and productive as possible. Write down what you think needs to be discussed so you don’t forget anything.

It is sometimes easier and more beneficial to approach one issue at a time rather than trying to resolve everything at once. It is less intimidating that way. If you start small, you are more likely to start.

Following are additional tips for starting the discussions:

  • Don’t put it off, start early when your parents health allows them to fully participate and share their wants, needs and preferences. Otherwise, your decisions may be dictated by a life-changing event and may not necessarily reflect your parent’s wishes.
  • Find a time and place that makes everyone comfortable. Avoid special family gatherings, like a birthday or holiday celebration. Choose a time that is not hemmed in by other obligations so you can have a relaxed, unhurried conversation, giving your parent plenty of time to share his or her wishes.
  • Include other family and support, but meet before approaching your parent to make sure everyone’s on the same page to avoid an unproductive, confrontational situation.
  • Be concerned and non-threatening by letting your parent know you’re concerned for his or her well-being and want to know how you can help them. Explain that you would like to help them write down their plans to help assure that they are followed. You also can help open the discussion about long-term planning by inquiring whether there are any responsibilities—such as home maintenance, yard work or bill paying—they would like you or someone else to help with to make life easier.
  • Proper communication skills will be key. Maintain good eye contact and get close enough to your parent, without invading personal space. Closeness builds trust and allows you to speak—and be heard—in an even, controlled voice.
  • Talk about your own experience such as your own retirement or estate planning as a way to gracefully transition into a conversation about your parents’ thoughts regarding the future. A friend or relative’s medical emergency could also serve as an opening for dialogue.
  • Get information on records and documents. Ask your parent where they keep important documents such as insurance policies, wills, trust documents, investment and banking records, tax returns, living wills and durable powers of attorney. Explain that you want to be prepared to help them when needed. This could also serve as a way of finding out what plans he or she have already made and what needs to be done.
  • Open-ended questions encourage your parent to share feelings. Then sit back and carefully listen to learn what is important to him or her.
  • Don’t be demanding. Offer options, not advice. Pose questions and offer more than one acceptable solution. Ask your parent which choice they prefer. This involves them in the decision process and enables them to exercise control and independence.
  • Maintaining your Loved ones dignity and speak with respect. Approach the discussion as a partner with your parent. In other words, make sure your parent is an active participant in the conversation. Stop to listen and respect their desire and need to maintain control over their lives. Avoid reversing roles in the discussion, that is, you acting as the parent and your parent as the child. This could cause your parent to resist your attempts to open discussion.
  • Keep things simple. As stated earlier, do not try to resolve everything at once. The goal is to open an ongoing, honest dialogue about your parent’s future, to share information and to understand your parent’s wishes and needs so that decisions can be made.
  • Involve others if your parent resists your efforts to begin the discussion. He or she may be more open to the guidance of a respected non-family member, such as a doctor, a member of the clergy, a geriatric care manager.

You do not have to wait for your children or love ones, you Can Initiate the Conversation

Looking ahead and wanting to plan for the future in a good idea, you do not have to wait for your children to bring up the subject. Often adult children don’t like thinking about their parents getting older and are reluctant to initiate the discussion.

  • You can take the initiative. If you begin having difficulty with activities of daily living, such as bathing, driving, or managing finances, speak with your physician or other healthcare professional. Also bring up the subject with family and ask for their suggestions and assistance.
  • Make your desires to family and friends. Do you want to continue living at home but with the help of a caregiver who can assist with certain tasks around the house? Or if you are finding it more difficult to prepare nutritious meals for yourself, would you prefer having meals delivered or having someone prepare meals for you in your home?
  • Familiarize yourself with available services to help you as you age. Physicians, social workers, geriatric care managers and other healthcare professionals can guide you in this, and your local Area Agency or Council on Aging can provide a listing of services available in your area.