Addressing the Elephant in the Room
Posted on March 17, 2014 by Jesse Hazel
We are living and staying independent longer than ever before and with this new territory of aging families find themselves searching for answers to new questions. One question families often struggle with is how to talk to mom or dad about their living arrangements once they can no longer maintain their home (without a lot of help from others.)
It is most often a very difficult conversation because most do not want to leave their home, but the circumstances necessitate it.
Despite how difficult these conversations may be, it can be beneficial to your family to broach the topic and create a plan before an incident arises (i.e., a fall.) Here are some ways to get the conversation going:
1. Use an example of a friend’s situation with her parent.
“Mom, you know Becky is dealing with her dad right now. He shouldn’t be driving. She isn’t sure what to do. What would you advise she do? How are you feeling about your driving? How should I handle it if I feel you shouldn’t be driving?”
2. Discuss how decisions were made in the past with grandma or Aunt Rose.
“Mom, when Aunt Rose got older, how did your family decide how best to help her? How did you feel about that? What should we do if we are ever in that situation?”
3. Take advantage of the expertise of your family’s trusted thought leaders.
Your family lawyer, pastor, financial advisor, or rabbi may need to get involved to help your parent address areas of concern. Remember, you are now, and always will be, the child. Ask your parents to consult an expert and ask if you can come along to learn for your own future.
4. Be honest and direct.
The topic you’re avoiding is very likely the elephant in the room.
Just be honest:
“Dad, I realize that discussing your finances is personal. But, I need to know if you are prepared for your long-term care needs. Do you have your affairs in order? If so, what do you feel comfortable sharing with me? I want to make sure your wishes are respected.”
“Mom, it scares me to know you are home alone now. I want you to look at assisted living communities with me. Please trust me.”
“Dad, you have made a lot of tough decisions in your life, it’s time we made another tough decision, together.”
5. Get out the paperwork.
Some older adults may not want to “talk,” but they understand that legal documents are necessary. Use the internet to locate and download a durable power of attorney for healthcare, finances, and a living will. Print copies for your family member and for yourself. Sit together over coffee and fill out these crucial documents. Every healthcare provider you encounter will ask you for copies of these documents. We recommend this booklet, which is available through the Center for Practical Bioethics: Caring Conversations.
6. Do not make promises you can’t keep, such as, “I’ll never put you in a nursing home.”
But, do make promises you can keep:
“Mom, the more I know about your wishes, the better job I will be able to do should I ever need to advocate for you.”
“Dad, if we talk about this now, then we can put it behind us and go fishing.”
“Grandma, I will always love you.”