As our parents and grandparents age, it becomes necessary to have honest dialogue about the change in needs they may be facing. But these conversations are often difficult. Adult children and the aging parents know the importance of the conversation, but they can be awkward, challenging and emotionally charged and so many simply avoid them. Coming up with a plan that everyone is comfortable with and that makes sense for everyone is a good idea. Avoiding them is not the answer, so here are a few tips to tackling those difficult topics with care and consideration.
1. Talk before it’s time. The sooner families have those conversations, the better they are long term. So start talking, soon and often. It may be twenty, ten or five years off before any serious involvement is necessary, but the sooner you talk about the what if’s, the more comfortable you will be discussing it when it is time and the more receptive the aging parent will be knowing they have you in their corner and that you understand all of their wishes.
2. Make sure you know your options. It’s hard to have adequate conversations when you don’t know all the options. Talk to your Elder Law Attorney to make sure that you are up to date on all the law changes, current practices, available aid, opportunities, and time changes, as well as costs. Life continues to evolve around us, we need to evolve our planning to match. We recommend meeting with your attorney, even if just for a brief update conversation, at least once every five years. This will aid in your discussions with family, as you’ll be better equipped with the information you need to make the best decisions.
3. Don’t be shy about talking. Because these are difficult conversations to have, everyone must be upfront and honest with each other. But remain polite and respectful in your honesty! Aging adults must be honest about the help they need, and adult children need to recognize the limitations they have to potentially assist or see to the problem issue. Tackle the big issues clearly, don’t tip toe around them or you aren’t really talking.
4. Be patient. Aging parents are looking at a reduction in independence and abilities. This is an emotional, confusing and stressful time. Recognize that before you start the conversation so that you are more patient as they express their concerns. They may seem trivial to you, “of course I’ll do that mom,” but those responses aren’t what your aging parent wants to hear. They want reassurance, even if it seems like a silly request or a silly fear they have. Help them to age gracefully and safely.
5. Talk a lot. I can’t tell you how many times I hear when the family is sitting in my office “but mom, we talked about that a few years ago remember?” Once a few years ago is NOT enough. It is tempting to rush through these awkward difficult conversations on touchy issues, and then not talk about them again because now you have, but that isn’t actually helping the situation. Have several conversations and over a lengthy period of time. Bring them up again later to make sure everyone still feels the same way. A great example of a simpler topic shift is with life support. Often if you ask the 60 year old how much they want, you’ll get an answer that is relatively the same, “I want to be resuscitated if the doctors think I’ll survive but I don’t want to be a vegetable.” If you ask an 85/90 year old that question, the answer shifts dramatically to an adamant, “Don’t you dare resuscitate me.” Without these conversations, you won’t realize that the aging parents view on something has changed. Planning processes evolve as life does so talk about these issues often and keep on talking about them. It will reduce so much stress down the road, and often relieve the tension of overwhelmed parents and children.
6. Think outside the box. After exploring your options and doing all your research to know all that is available for your particular set of circumstances, it’s time to evaluate your plan to ensure that you or your aging parent is aging gracefully and safely. Explore ALL your options and see what fits best. It doesn’t have to be what everyone else is doing. Do what fits you. Don’t assume that you know the answer until you’ve looked at it. Make a pros and cons list. Thinking outside the box allows you to combine options, and be open to alternatives that you hadn’t thought of previously.
7. Talk with a neutral person in the room. Sometimes the conversations are just too charged, especially thecloser we get to needing some additional care. Too many emotions are charged and being flung around the room. So call us. Let us sit down with everyone, phone consult far away family members in, and discuss the situation and the options neutrally. Aging parents especially like this option. They feel they aren’t pressured by family to make one decision over another. We lead them to what is best for them, and they know that they are our first priority, not the adult children. The adult child might have been saying the same thing for months, but hearing it from someone outside the family often helps. Take advantage of that service!
While tough, these conversations will help the aging adult and the child navigate the next few years as life changes and shifts (or has already started to). We like to see our clients' families working easily and peacefully together to the end. We would be happy to assist you as you navigate these rough waters, and direct you to resources available to you and any planning that may be necessary to ensure your long-term plan continues to work the way you intend it to.