Talking with your parents about what they want as they get older doesn’t have to be one long sit-down conversation. Instead, when the moment is right, think of working your concerns into everyday exchanges. Don’t stall while waiting for the perfect opportunity, however, or an emergency might arise before you’ve had a chance. Be intentional, and direct if necessary, but stay sensitive to your parents’ wishes and concerns.
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A few examples of how to bring up the subject of long-term care:
One day, your father mentions that his eyes are bothering him. You could say, “Have you seen the eye doctor lately? How does it affect your reading or driving?” Then use that opening to discuss his other health and medical care wishes.
As an entry point for a talk about your parents’ finances, you could mention your own retirement planning and ask for their advice. As they advise you, you can also discuss their savings and future plans.
You notice your mom is having a tough time walking down the stairs. Ask her if she has thought about what she wants to do when it becomes too hard to get around in her home. The question could lead to a broader talk about housing options down the road.
Getting the family together
Eventually, you might want to organize a meeting of family members to talk about your parents’ caregiving plans. Come up with a list of questions or concerns to raise about housing, health care, transportation and money. Before gathering, consider:
What are the sibling dynamics?
Who would be best to lead the conversation?
What would you want to happen as a result of the gathering?
What are you prepared to do and not do?
During the meeting, make sure everyone has a chance to be heard and that the discussion revolves around your parents’ wishes. Here are a few things to keep in mind during family conversations about caregiving plans:
Try not to anticipate what your parents might say or how they will react.
Example: “Dad, let’s talk about what you want down the road. Let’s start with what is important to you.”
Express your love and concern—and, most important, listen.
Example: “Mom, have you thought about what you want to do if you need more help?”
Refer to yourself and your thoughts.
Example: “I know this is hard, but I’m going to have to do the same thing for myself.”
Be straightforward about the facts; don’t hide negative information.
Example: “When you are driving, I notice your reactions aren’t as quick as they used to be. I’m worried.”
Phrase your concerns as questions, avoiding telling your parents what they should do.
Example: “Mom, do you think you might want a hand with some of the housework?”
Give your loved ones room to get angry, but remain calm.
Example: “I understand all of this is really hard to talk about, but it’s important for us to discuss.”
What if your parents resist your attempts to discuss their care plans?
It can be frustrating if your parents don’t want to engage in the conversation, but you should respect your parents’ desire to avoid the subject. Keep trying, at different times and with different approaches.
However, if your parents’ safety is at risk, you have to push the issue. Bring in other family members or a trusted friend to help intervene. If it’s very serious, social services may need to be contacted. Also, find out about local community resources that help older people remain independent, such as home health care and transportation services and present the options to your parents.
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