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How to Ask Your Senior Parents the Hard Questions

No one wants to rock the boat at family gatherings. You’d rather catch everyone up on what’s going on in life, enjoy some home-cooked food, and listen to embarrassing childhood stories. Everyone wants to leave the awkwardness at the door, even if it’s something important like noticing mom and dad slowing down as they become senior citizens. In fact, Care.com did a survey in 2016 that found 54 percent of adult children would rather talk to their own kids about sex than talk to their parents about senior care. The flip side isn’t much better – 43 percent of senior citizens haven’t had detailed conversations about long-term care with their families according to a Fidelity Investments survey.

Why Have the Conversations

As much as we don’t want to think about them, incidents and accidents are likely to happen as our parents become senior citizens. It’s better to be prepared beforehand than be scrambling in the aftermath. Having a plan in place will give you peace of mind and a better understanding of what needs to be done so that you can care for your parents the best way possible. Having conversations early can also help aging parents with the transition of their next life stage as senior citizens.

The sooner, the better as well – don’t wait for your parents to come to you because most likely, they won’t. The rule of thumb from the network of caregivers at Home Instead Senior Care is called the “4070 Talk” meaning when you’re around the age of 40 and your parents are around the age of 70, unless you feel it needs to be done sooner.

What Should You Discuss with Senior Parents

I’m sure the first thing that comes to your mind is something along the lines of a will and power of attorney. Those topics are only scratching the service when it comes to what you’ll need to be ready for with aging parents.

Personal Hygiene & Health

This is definitely the most awkward to discuss with your parents, but one of the most important as well. Although they may be very capable of caring for their personal hygiene and health management in the present, what is the plan when it gets harder or they are unable? Would they prefer one of the children to be their caretaker, hire

in-home care, or, if assisted living is an option, where would they like to move to? Talking nutrition is important as well. If they are having trouble making nutritious meals and snacks for themselves, you could see about meal delivery services. The same goes for medications – do they fully understand what and why they are taking certain prescriptions? Do they visit their doctor regularly? And a few dust bunnies are ok, but when the dishes seem to be dirty more than usual, it might be time to consider help with household work as well.

Safety In & Out of Home

One of the biggest safety concerns of aging parents for adult children is driving. This can be a harder conversation because seniors may feel like their independence is being taken away. AARP has a great list of warning signs to help you know if it’s time to have the driving conversation.

If you feel it’s time, try to have alternatives to help them still have control over this area of freedom. If their local grocery store offers home delivery, help set up the process and show them how to use it. You could also look into rideshare options or reach out to friends and neighbors if you don’t live close by. Making sure they are safe in the home is essential, too. Do they remember to shut off the stove or are able to use their utensils safely? If they were to get hurt at home, what is the plan? We’ve all seen the commercials for LifeAlert, but if your aging parent insists on being independent in their own home, it’s a good time to research good ways to keep them safe.

Finances and Important Documents

Not only is it important for you to know they have a will, but know how to access it and other important documents. Make sure you’re familiar with their long-term care plan, all types of finances from bills to be paid to 401K they may have, and end-of-life plans, or at the very least, know where these are located. It’s also a good idea to ask them if they’ve updated these recently. APlaceForMom.com recommends having them review their plans at least once a year.

How to Start the Conversation

Think about the relationship you and your parents have. Are you straightforward with them, or are they more reserved about personal topics? Help them understand you want this to be a partnership, not a takeover. They still have a say in decisions, you just want to know what those decisions are so you can be an advocate for them.

Having small conversations with your aging parent can help build up to bigger discussions. You can start by mentioning something you heard in the news recently. This resource from the Home Instead Senior Care caregivers network is another great option. Another great way to break the ice on these topics is putting the spotlight on yourself. Ask your parents for advice on your long-term care and planning. When you turn the conversation towards them, make sure they don’t feel cornered or defensive.

Make sure you’ve done some homework ahead of time as well. This way, you’ll be more prepared, and be able to give insight towards areas they may not have thought about. Having a checklist can help guide your conversation. It also helps you to cover everything you want to discuss.

Here are some great books that can help you learn how to best handles these discussions

Not all parents will be willing to have these conversations or want your input, at least not right away. The biggest thing to remember is that this will take time for everyone to process. Make sure you’re listening so they feel heard and respected. After all, they are still your parents. If you need help finding information or need advice, Woodmen Life is also here to help. Ask about our Planning for Change booklet when you contact one of our representatives.

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Abby Korinek