When Your Parents Have Reached That Point
In most people’s adult lives, there comes a point where we need to talk about difficult subjects with our aging parents. For many of us, it will seem like a role reversal of when we were financially, physically, and emotionally dependent on our parents during childhood. Many adults do not feel up to the task, whether or not they have entered parenthood within the “sandwich generation” of adults who care for children and parents simultaneously –with all the valuable but stressful responsibility that this undertaking implies. Besides overworking, adults often neglect these conversations with their parents because they may understandably think their parent stubborn when the parent just as understandably does not want to give up parts of their independent life so quickly. However, having difficult conversations makes a world of difference in the long run to families facing inevitable struggles.
Many new difficulties emerge during old age, and many of us put off addressing them for ourselves until retirement. When your parents have reached that point, you will likely talk to them about such topics as finances, healthcare, safety, living situations, end-of-life wishes, and estate planning. You may ask difficult questions about their life savings, durable powers of attorney for healthcare and finance, last will and testament, medications, medical issues, need to give up driving, care management, senior living options, living will, end-of-life treatment preferences, and family legacy. Willingness to hear their opinions and make compromises is crucial, as it will ease them into the best possible options and relieve your stress.
This article explains what to keep in mind about elderly parents’ needs and how to talk to them about them. Whether you have to handle this situation in the near future personally or assist someone else in doing the same, the following advice can help all adults responsible for their aging parents.
What to Remember About Aging Parents’ Needs
It will be useful to understand your parent’s transition into old age before you start the conversation on any of their needs. One thing to understand is that the aforementioned topics of finances, healthcare, safety, living situations, end-of-life wishes, and estate planning all require paperwork to fulfill your parent’s wishes. For instance, durable powers of attorney for finance guarantee an agent will take care of their finances when they lose the capacity for it. The healthcare equivalent does the same for medical treatments, and a living will or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) ensure one their preferred end-of-life care. Estate planning requires a last will and testament or trust to transfer property as one desires. Giving up driving, changing a living situation, and receiving care management all require bookkeeping of their own. If you keep track of your parent’s affairs before starting the conversation, you can expedite the process of getting them in order.
Informing the above documents with your parent’s wishes follows the conversation. You will find that the documents’ range of options all typically balance independence and other ideals with practicality. For instance, the medical documents allow everything from exclusively palliative care to full treatment as regards CPR, life support, and other treatments. It begs the difficult question: under what circumstances would your parent consider life worth living, or not? Living situations are difficult to change because of how quickly the risk of falls and car accidents can supersede a parent’s desire to keep living independently and driving, respectively. Depending on family circumstances, emotions can run deep about finances and estate planning because the wrong decision can adversely affect the whole family. Also, estate planning has an informal aspect of determining your parent’s family legacy based on how they want to be remembered.
The next section of this article discusses how to address all of the above productively with your parent, hearing them out and making your own thoughts known.
How to Talk About Difficult Subjects
Before you start the conversations on any above topics, have an initial chat asking about your parent’s house, car, health, or other topics indirectly related to their current issues. Depending on what they say, you can offer an opening for a serious conversation later if they seem receptive to you or bring in a third party such as a doctor or family friend to have the conversation later if they seem critical. Hold the actual conversation on the issue when they bring it up first or, failing that when everyone is relaxed. Taking the initials steps will make them more receptive to the problem-solving talk.
Your actual address of the issue should start with respectful concern based on stated evidence of the problem; maybe you noticed they have almost fallen often, received driving tickets, or have mobility or memory issues. If they need more easing into it, first bring up stories of other people in the same situation and relate the scenarios. In any case, avoid telling your parent they are “too old” for something, or that a situation looks bad, or that they “need” to take a specific course of action, or anything else too critical and domineering; this approach will likely put them on the defensive. Instead, frame the conversation as an exploration of options and hear what they have to say. Compliment them on what they are doing right, and they will know you value their input.
If your parent continues being critical of the conversation, politely end it and bring it up at a better time. Again, you can hand the conversation to a more appropriate third party at any time. If they are still receptive enough while voicing something you want to compromise, acknowledge the merit and appeal of their opinion and then politely transition into the merit of yours. Fear of change can outweigh long-term judgment, so offer help with making the difficult change you propose. If and only if they agree, propose short-term plans. Long-term plans should wait until after they have implemented these and you have given them time to think. Resume the conversation in the fashion above whenever they next bring it up, and you will easily reach the solution.
Old age is a time of contemplating the legacy you want to leave. When you hold difficult conversations with elderly parents understanding they have done this contemplation, you can ensure the best outcome for their sense of closure and yours.
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