Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season. It is when family calendars start filling up with holiday gatherings from baking cookies to lighting the menorah and unwrapping presents piled up under the Christmas tree. This is also the season to start talking with parents about aging and their future care, reports News3LV in “Tough talks over turkey: Is it time to have “The Talk” with your parents?”
It is not easy to approach this topic, especially if you have a parent who is not open to discussing the harsh realities of aging. Even if you try your very best to be sensitive, they may still bristle. They may feel like they are too young to be spoken to about these issues or worry that they’ll be considered a burden to your family, or that you simply want to get them out of the way. It’s a tough topic.
Here are some tips for these conversations:
Don’t wait. It’s easier not to have the conversations at all. However, then when an emergency strikes the family is faced with a series of decisions and missing paperwork. Explore options before a crisis. Let your loved ones get comfortable with the concept of talking about these difficult issues and then explore the different topics.
It’s important to get up to speed with your parent’s health care benefits and their wishes. Do they have the right health care plan in place? Talk with them about the Medicare Advantage plans that are available to help them stay independent longer.
Be sensitive. Let them know clearly that, at some point during their visit, you want to discuss their future. Give that thought time to sink in. You don’t want them to get defensive. Remember that talking about aging and death (or, as we often hear, “end-of-life”) is difficult for everyone. Decide which topics to dig into and which you can leave for another time.
Be prepared and be specific. What topics regarding aging do you want to cover and what are the most important ones to discuss first?
Long-term care wishes: do they want to try to live at home? If that is not possible, what would they like? Do they have the ability to pay for an in-home caregiver or would they be better off in an assisted living facility? Could they live with any family members?
End of life decisions: is a living will in place? Do they have a durable power of attorney? Have they thought about what they would like, if they are no longer able to communicate their wishes?
Medical coverage: what kind of long-term care insurance do they have? Are they able to afford it and what does it cover?
Listen. Really listen. Hear what they are saying. Listen to their fears about aging and to their wishes. Speak in a loving manner and be patient. Let them know you will do the best you can to honor their wishes.
Take a break. If at first the conversation is halting, and they are visibly uncomfortable, it may not be the right day for them. Or, they aren’t yet able to share their thoughts with you.
Remain respectful and be empathetic. It is important to be patient. This is not a one-time conversation but a series of conversations to work through all of the salient points and make sure that everyone is focused on the same thing: taking good care of your aging parents.