Tags: Health Matters
Talking About 'Private Issues' With Parents Can Be Stressful
February 15, 2011Talking with parents about issues involving their health and finances, their feelings about remaining independence, or their thoughts about their final wishes, can be every bit as difficult as that talk you had years ago about the birds and the bees. These talks should take place when things are going well, before there is a crisis and decisions need to be made hastily.
A recent AARP study found that most elderly parents actually feel better about having these kinds of discussions as part of their planning for the future. Such discussions, they say, help them live life the way they wish.
Here are suggestions to approach the conversation:
Approach the subject indirectly. For example, "I know you're taking lots of pills. How do you keep track of them? Would a pill organizer from the drug store help you?"
Be direct, but non-confrontational. "You know, Mom, I'm worried that you seem to be unsteady on your feet. I'm wondering how we can help protect you from falls."
Watch for openings. "Dad, you mentioned having problems with your eyesight. Have you seen the eye doctor lately? Does it seem to affect your driving?"
Share your feelings. "You've always been so independent, Mom. I imagine it's hard to ask for help. You know you can always ask us for help if you need to, or we can find someone else who can help."
Here are some other recommendations for children of elderly parents to consider:
Make a list for your parents with questions or concerns they can prepare prior to the conversation.
Expect some resistance. However:
Respect your parents' feelings if they make it clear they want to avoid the subject. Try again at a later time.
Push the issue if health or safety is at risk.
Hold a family meeting where everyone discusses concerns while giving your parents a sense of involvement and control over their lives.
Involve other people your parents respect, such as a member of the clergy, an attorney or a close friend.
Look for community resources that can help a parent remain independent, including home care, meal delivery or transportation. Most people prefer to remain in their current home and today there are options that bridge the spectrum from living totally independently to being in long-term care.
Ask about the location of such important documents as insurance policies, wills, health care proxies, living wills, trust documents, tax returns and investment and banking records.
Expect that the discussion will be ongoing rather than a "one shot" deal. Each time the topic will become more comfortable.
Step back and evaluate. This might include suggesting that your parents talk with a third party – an estate planner, financial expert or attorney.
Physicians and geriatric social workers warn that there are a number of danger signs that indicate that an elderly person needs extra help or an immediate change in their living arrangement. As a result, note any marked change in personality or behavior. However, no major lifestyle changes should be made without discussions with the elderly loved one, other family members and health professionals.
Initiating that talk is often the most difficult part. Don't put it off any longer.
Jennifer Parker is the president of Forever Young Home Care.