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Family Relationships

Talking to Your Aging Parents about Future Care Needs

It’s the talk no one wants to have-no, not discussing sex with your children, rather, sitting down to talk with aging parents to discuss their future care needs and wishes. When you are talking with aging parents and have some concern about how the communication may go, you are most likely talking an important topic or an emotionally loaded topic. Important topics may be things such as

  • figuring out where older parents should live, when to sell the house and seek alternate living arrangements
  • what kinds of help (if any) they need, loss of the ability to drive or take care of basic needs
  • who needs to know about their finances or taking over the management of household finances
  • what type(s) of health care services they should have and how to cover the cost of care
  • preferences regarding end of life, advance directives
  • whether or not a will has been written and where it is stored
  • advance care planning for funeral arrangements

Emotionally loaded topics are almost anything that leads to strong emotions being experienced and communicated. In any family, there are a specific and unique set of emotionally laden topics. As a caregiver, you undoubtedly have a series of specific issues that you want to communicate about with your parent. Some of these are emotionally laden, some are not. Some are easy to discuss in your family situation, some are not. Generally, when there is an emotionally laden and important issue, these suggestions may help overcome any resistance your parents might have to discussing these potentially touchy subjects.

Speak with respect. Avoid sounding bossy and telling your parents what they need to do. That probably didn’t work for you when you were a teenager, and it will have the same effect on your mother and father now. The goal is to help your parent remain as independent as possible. That includes respecting their opinion and their feelings.

Your motive should be their health and wellbeing. Emphasizing this as much as possible is important. You both want the same thing: their independence. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean living on their own or continuing to drive. It does mean maintaining or improving their physical health so they can be as independent as possible given their limitations. Your goal is to prevent them from becoming incapacitated to the point they need a high level of care, which means a low level of independence.

Show understanding and provide choices. In the ideal world your parents would instantly agree with your suggestions. In the real world they’re likely to get mad, defensive, cry… You can, and should, let them know you understand why they feel the way they do. The approach that works best is to give options. For example, “You can’t live at home any longer unless you have a caregiver. If you don’t want to do that, then you’ll have to move to assisted living.”

Set a date for a decision and for action. If you don’t do this, the conversation may continue to be L-O-N-G and repetitious with no end. If it has to happen, it has to happen. The situation you’re dealing with determines the deadline. If they’re unsafe now, then a decision needs to happen in days, not weeks and months.

Choose your words carefully. Make sure your parents know that your primary motivation is to help them. Rather than focus on what they won’t be able to do someday, explain that it would give you peace of mind to know that they will be taken care of, especially in terms of maintaining independence, managing their health needs, and making sure they have money to lead the life they want. Share your concerns and then respect what they have to say.

This may not be an easy conversation for you or your mother and father. It’s a sign they’re getting older. To them it means letting go of more independence. To you it can mean that you have to accept they’re getting older and your roles are changing. You’re beginning the journey of letting go of the parent you’ve known all your life.