No one really likes to think about it: What life will be like when we're old, ill and unable to care for ourselves. So it's perfectly understandable why your aging parents balk when you bring up the topic — and you try to discuss their plans for the years ahead. As far as they're concerned, everything is just fine and there's no reason to think that it won't continue that way.
See also: How to assess a loved one's situation.
Ideally, you should begin candid conversations about the future before your parent has a health crisis or he's reached the point when he's unable to participate in decisions about his plans. Broach the topic senitively with your parents, and chances are the discussion will go well. But if you're totally stonewalled — or they deny they need help now or will in the future — here are some ways you can cope:
1. Understand their point of view. Balking at your reasonable suggestions can mask the fact that your parents know exactly what's happening and are actually terrified of losing control of their lives. The person who refuses to move from his large home into a more manageable apartment because, he claims, there will be no room for his books and files is really saying that without them, he will feel as if life has passed him by.
Many older people are reluctant to burden their families with additional worries. They're pros when it comes to social pleasantries, assuring you they're "just fine" when they really aren't. The problem is, while denial may temporarily mask anxiety, it puts off and sometimes creates problems.
2. Determine exactly what's needed. Take stock of your parent's mental, physical, environmental and financial situation. Is the house clean and neat? Are bills paid on time? Are they eating well-balanced meals and taking prescribed medications? Are their clothes clean? Are they paying attention to personal hygiene? Are they socializing with friends? Consider, too, the safety of their home and community: Can they handle the stairs? Will they need to drive to get to the store, bank or visit friends?
3. Do your research. Check out AARPs comprehensive section on health and caregiving resources or call the local Area Agency on Aging, so you have a sense of what services seniors generally need, and which ones (home health aide; senior day care; food deliveries) are available in your parent's community. Talk to friends who've been in similar situations for suggestions that worked for them. Once you've compiled detailed information and multiple options to problems or concerns you'll feel more confident raising the issues, and your parents will be better able to envision their future.