Starting the Conversation
All too often, conversations about preparing for the senior years don’t happen — at least not as soon as they should. In this article, we offer suggestions for overcoming the discomfort that frequently prevents adult children and parents from beginning these important discussions.
The best advice is to plan carefully and think through such conversations, so they are as positive and productive as possible. Make sure you don’t forget anything by writing down what you think needs to be discussed.
Also, do not approach this important opportunity as “The Conversation,” but as an ongoing series of conversations. Address one issue at a time rather than trying to resolve everything at once.
Following are additional tips for starting the discussions:
- Begin early, when your parents’ health allows them to fully participate and share their wants, needs and preferences. Otherwise, their decisions may be dictated by a life-changing event and may not necessarily reflect their wishes.
- Choose a time and place that makes everyone comfortable. Avoid special family occasions. Choose a time that is not hemmed in by other obligations, so you can have a relaxed, unhurried conversation, giving your parents plenty of time to share their wishes.
- Include other family members, but meet before approaching your parents to make sure everyone’s on the same page to avoid an unproductive, confrontational situation.
- Make the experience non-threatening by letting your parents know you’re concerned for their well-being and want to know how you can help. Explain that you would like to help them write down their plans to ensure they are carried out. You also can open the discussion about long-term planning by inquiring whether there are any responsibilities they would like you or someone else to help with to make life easier.
- Use good communication skills. Maintain good eye contact and get close enough to your parent, without invading personal space. Closeness builds trust and allows you to speak — and be heard — in an even, controlled voice.
- Share an experience such as your own retirement or estate planning as a way to gracefully transition into a conversation about your parents' thoughts regarding the future. A friend or relative’s medical emergency could also serve as an opening for dialogue.
- Ask about records and documents. Ask your parents where they keep important documents such as insurance policies, wills, trust documents, investment and banking records, tax returns, living wills and durable powers of attorney. Explain that you want to be prepared to help them when needed. This could also serve as a way of finding out what plans they have already made and what needs to be done.
- Ask open-ended questions that encourage your parents to share feelings. Then sit back and carefully listen to learn what is important to them.
- Offer options, not advice. Pose questions and offer more than one acceptable solution. Ask your parents which choice they prefer. This involves them in the elder care decision process and enables them to exercise control and independence.
- Speak with respect. Approach the discussion as a partner with your parents. Stop to listen and respect their desire and need to maintain control over their lives. Avoid reversing roles in the discussion, that is, you acting as the parent and your parent as the child.
- Keep it simple. As stated earlier, do not try to resolve everything at once. The goal is to open an ongoing, honest dialogue about your parents’ future, to share information and to understand your parents’ wishes and needs, so that decisions can be made.
- Involve third parties if your parents resist your efforts to begin the discussion. They may be more open to the guidance of a respected, non-biased individual.
Seniors Can Initiate the Conversation, Too
If you are a senior who is looking ahead and wanting to plan for the future, you do not have to wait for your children to bring up the subject. Often adult children don’t like thinking about their parents getting older and are reluctant to initiate the discussion.
- Take the initiative. If you begin having difficulty with activities of daily living, such as bathing, driving or managing finances, speak with your physician or other health care professional. Also bring up the subject with family and ask for their suggestions and assistance.
- Share your preferences with family and friends. Do you want to continue living at home but have the help of a caregiver who can assist with certain tasks around the house? Or, if you are having more difficulty preparing nutritious meals for yourself, would you prefer having meals delivered or having someone prepare meals for you in your home?
- Learn about available services to help you as you age. Physicians, social workers, elder care providers, geriatric care managers and other healthcare professionals can guide you in this, and your local Area Agency on Aging or Council on Aging can provide a listing of home care services available in your area.
No matter which party you are in these conversations, clear, respectful, loving communication is key. This will help ensure that the seniors involved will have their needs met and live a safe, happy life.