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Talking With Your Parents About Independent Living

Starting the conversation about their options

Focus on these key issues

While each situation is unique, here are some common issues that can affect an older person’s ability to remain independent that you may want to discuss as your parents’ situation changes.

Where they live
Ask: Is your home still appropriate for your needs?
Are there any safety hazards in the house that could be removed?
Have you thought about eventually living somewhere else?

Their everyday activities
Ask: Do you need help with household chores?
Does impaired vision interfere with your cooking?
Can you hear a knock at the door or the telephone ring?

How they get around
Ask: Do you feel comfortable driving?
Would you like me to take you to your doctor appointments?
Are there vans or discounted senior taxi services you could use for shopping or to get to religious services?

Their health
Ask: Are your prescriptions current?
Have you been to your doctor lately? What did he or she say about your health?

Their finances
Ask: What are your current bills like and can you cover everything you need?
Have you thought about how you might need money in the future to help pay for assistance with everyday activities you might not be able to do yourself?
Would it be useful to consult with a financial planner?

How they pay for health care
Ask: What kind of health insurance do you have? Has it paid your health care bills so far? Do you have any questions about Medicare or Medicaid? 

Dealing with resistance

Your parents may not want to talk about these issues. Some resistance is normal.

  • Respect your parents’ feelings when they make it clear they want to avoid a subject. Try again later using another approach.
  • Consider pushing the issue if your parents’ health or safety is at risk. While your parents have a right to be in charge of their own lives, some crisis situations — such as health care expenses depleting a bank account — may call for you to intervene. If so, act firmly but with compassion.
  • Involve other family members or friends. You may want to hold a family meeting where everyone can discuss concerns and develop a plan to help.
  • Find out about community resources to help your parents remain independent, such as transportation or home health care, and share the options with them.
  • Be prepared to let your parents make their own life choices, even if you don’t agree with them. You should set your own limits as to how involved you can be. If the living situation is unsafe, you may need to bring in a third party to intervene.

Also of interest: Balancing work and caregiving.

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