Before you begin the conversation, arm yourself with knowledge, sensitivity, compassion and empathy. Compassion requires understanding the negative connotations associated with particular words. Eliminate the words elderly and facility (sounds institutional, like a prison) from your vocabulary. Use older adults and communities instead.
Become familiar with the resources that can help your parents. Examples include:
- Aging in place
- Elder law attorneys
- Geriatric care managers
- Home modifications
- Levels of care (independent living, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living, skilled nursing)
- Memory care
- Move managers
- Power of attorney
Start with your county’s area agency on aging (www.agingcare.com). Johnson County, KS residents should call 913-715-8800. Jackson County, MO residents should call 816-474-4240. Communicate with your siblings. As you frame what you want to say to mom and dad and in what tone of voice, anticipate that a lot of unaddressed feelings will bubble up: the desire to maintain independence, fear of outliving their money and unresolved issues between family members. This is not a conversation to have over the phone. It’s also better if one child acts as the spokesperson for all of the siblings (there always seems to be one child who takes charge anyway). Expect resistance. You might hear, “No. We’re not moving.” Most parents and children never have this conversation. Have it long before the crisis comes so that when it does, you understand their wishes.
Tailor your approach to what resonates with your parents. Share your concerns. Never begin a sentence with the word you because mom and dad will immediately become defensive. “My brothers and I want to make sure that your needs are being met now and if a crisis occurs. There are many choices available to you. Let’s talk about some options and see which ones appeal to you.” Give them a list of questions and then set up a time later to discuss their answers with you.
- Have you thought about where you’d like to live as you get older?
- Would you consider living with one of us (the children)?
- Would you want someone to live here to take care of you if you can’t live alone?
- Would you want to modify your home for aging in place?
- Do you have your will? Trust? Where can I locate it?
- Do you have life insurance?
- Do you have medical and financial powers of attorney?
- Would you like to talk to a financial planner?
- What does your long-term care insurance cover?
- Do you keep an updated list of your medications?
- Do you have supplemental health insurance?
- Where do you bank? Safe deposit box?
- Is there enough money to cover caregivers or assisted living?
- Have you made arrangements for your funeral (cremation, burial)
Many older parents do not want to become a burden to their children. Once they understand that taking control of their future allows them to make choices that enable them to remain in control, they realize they have given a gift to their children and indeed, they have. Remain patient but persistent as you encounter resistance. Remain involved. Have the dreaded conversation long before the crisis comes and chances are, you and your parents will have a much better outcome.