Last Updated: November 19, 2019
Discussing health, housing or finances with an aging parent can be intimidating to those involved. Our experts will guide you through these important topics to help make these conversations with your aging loved ones as comfortable and productive as possible.
A visit home for the holidays is an ideal time to connect with parents and family members you don’t see every day. It’s a time-honored opportunity to catch up, share old memories and create new ones. But sometimes these holiday gatherings can also be a time when you notice an elderly loved one is struggling.
Dad and Mom may be moving slower, forgetting things or showing signs they can’t take care of their home. Sometimes the signs of a struggling elderly person are more subtle. For instance, you may notice an overgrown lawn, a messy kitchen or a disheveled appearance. Adult children are sometimes afraid to confront these changes.
Will Mom or Dad be insulted that you think they can’t take care of themselves? Will “the talk” become an argument that ruins the holidays? These fears can make it easier to just avoid the topic altogether. But failing to discuss and plan for things like cognitive decline, physical ailments and other realities of aging can lengthen the time your parent suffers.
Fortunately, you don’t have to approach the tough conversations about aging with fear. In fact, you may find that it is easier than expected. But you can’t find out until you get started. Keep reading for tips to help adult children discuss things in a way that is sensitive and effective. We cover topics from retirement finances to end-of-life wishes.
While it can be challenging to discuss aging with your parents, it is crucial to empathize and ask for their input.1 A Place for Mom works with experts in many different fields who provide insight to help you prepare for the future. You should be aware of what is needed during and after retirement. Each expert can help your family learn how to recognize problems. They also provide advice on having the tough conversation with your adult loved ones this holiday season.
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Changes in health status – from memory problems to challenges with mobility – are a natural and often inevitable part of aging. But recognizing important changes in mom or dad can be tricky. Geriatrician, Dr. Leslie Kernisan, gives us a checklist of medical red flags that may indicate that your parent needs additional care. From basic life tasks to mood and behavioral changes, find out what to look for and learn what you can do if your parent is resisting help. Read Dr. Kernisan’s expert Interview.
Geriatric Psychologist, Dr. Melissa Henston, describes our parents’ biggest fears about aging and assisted living.
Having tough conversations about the need for geriatric care or assisted living can be awkward. Indeed, it can create a type of role reversal that can be particularly uncomfortable for an adult child. Putting ourselves in their shoes helps us communicate more respectfully and openly, and avoid the pitfall of them shutting down on challenging topics. Simple measures like focusing on their quality of life and general wellbeing – rather than old age – can make the conversation more comfortable for both adult children and their elderly loved ones alike. Read Dr. Henston’s expert interview.
Proper financial planning is critical to ensuring your elderly loved one enjoys their sunset years in comfort. Setting aside money for senior care, arranging for how to pay bills and other things can minimize the financial stress your parents face in their old age. But it can be hard to know exactly how to tackle financial issues such as who should be handing Mom and Dad’s finances. Andy Smith, Senior VP of Financial Planning at Financial Engines, and host of the call-in radio program, Investing Sense, delivers a fundamental investment strategy for your family and your aging parents. Get advice on how your family can afford senior care for your parents while safeguarding their assets.
Read Andy’s expert interview.
Sorting out important legal matters can play a huge role in ensuring your aging parents are secure in their retirement years. Elder Law attorney, Stuart Furman, Esq. details the important aspects of estate planning, and why procrastinating jeopardizes medical and financial options later. Find out how to approach your parents or other aging family members about their end-of-life wishes that will provide clarity to you, your parents, and other family members that may find the topic difficult to discuss. Read Stuart’s expert interview.
5. Assessing Cognitive Ability — Wes Ashford, Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist
From memory loss to more severe changes, mental decline can be a very real and jarring part of aging. It can also be tricky to discuss with older adults in a way that doesn’t make them combative. Parents may feel you’re giving them unwarranted medical advice or implying they can’t take care of themselves. As a result, adult children may put off the conversation, resulting in late diagnosis or treatment of a serious medical issue. While conditions like Alzheimer’s may not be curable, there may be ways to make your parent more comfortable and able to retain more of their independence. Every moment you stall on addressing the topic, however, your parent suffers. Avoiding stress and discomfort for all family members is as easy as confronting the issue early. It’s natural to feel some apprehension when tackling these topics, but aging parents can be surprisingly receptive if you approach things respectfully.
Leading memory expert, Dr. Wes Ashford shows us how to assess our parent’s cognitive ability in a fun and engaging way. Memory games, for example, offer one way of making your parent aware of any cognitive issues they have in a non-threatening way. Learn the warning signs of cognitive impairment and how to discuss your parent’s condition, while treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve. Read Dr. Ashford’s expert interview.
Getting started with these conversations is easier than you may think, and taking the time to have the conversation will help lead to better outcomes. In fact, many seniors may be aware they need help but are unsure of how to ask for it. Showing your concern in a loving, sensitive way can be a great way to tighten bonds with your aging parents. For more information, including a Caregiver Toolkit, financial guides, checklists, and more on how to have the tough conversation with aging loved ones, visit: www.aplaceformom.com/conversations.
Do you have any questions regarding having the “tough conversation” with aging parents that you’d like us to address? Share them with us in the comments below.
1Eight Tips for Talking to Your Aging Parents About Important Issues. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/eight-tips-for-talking-to-your-aging-parents-about-important-issues/.