Helping Aging Parents
Your parents are agingIf it's been a while since you saw your aging parents, you may be shocked at how your mother's health status has changed in such a short time. Did you always have to shout so loud to be heard? Or you may be stuck by the realization that your dad is actually growing older.
Was he always so grumpy and absent-minded? Whatever your situation, the holiday season is a time to broach that difficult topic of 'what happens next', and to start making plans for the future.
Questions about your parents futureThe idea of this discussion alone may be enough to increase your blood pressure, but no one ever said that discussing your aging parents' future would be easy. Many of us are used to our parents asking the questions - "so what are you going to do with your life?"
How many times have you heard that one? And yet now, as your parent's current or potential caregiver, it's up to you to start asking the difficult questions regarding your parents' medical, financial and housing plans and arrangements.
Aging is inevitableSo why is it so difficult for children of aging parents to discuss the future? Each situation is obviously different, but for some of us it may be the sudden reversal of roles that seems so strange, or the fact that we are now meddling in our parents' personal lives.
There may also be a reluctance to admit that the inevitable has happened; our parents have aged and that means that we too will most likely grow old some day.
It's never too soon
Yes, it's a tough conversation to initiate, but remember that it's never too soon to discuss the future with your aging parent. Why? Because it's easier to make plans before a crisis, such as a fall or a stroke, catches everyone off guard. It's much better to have a plan in place early, rather than scrambling around at the last moment. Also, many issues such as arranging for long term care insurance or finding a place in a nursing home must be taken care of well in advance.
So plan your approach and timing carefully and you may be pleasantly surprised. Chances are, if it's a subject on your mind, it is on your elder's mind too.
Listen to your parentsAlthough this looming conversation may feel like one of the hardest things you've ever had to do, don't let your elder sense that. While it's a good idea to plan the topics you'd like to cover, and the decisions and conclusions you'd like to reach, try not to make the conversation appear too prepared and scripted. After all, remember what this is meant to be - a conversation between two people. Be prepared to listen to what your parent has to say; she may have some pretty clear plans of her own already.
Here are some tips and pointers to help you try and make the conversation go smoothly:
- Don't let your questions appear as though you are interrogating. If you are sensitive and show genuine interest and concern, chances are your loved one will open up to you.
- Be supportive and empathetic, not judgmental. The last thing you want is to appear threatening and put her on the defense.
- Ask open-ended questions, giving your parent the opportunity to share the circumstances in her life with you.
- Be prepared to accept your parent's decisions and point of view, even if you find it hard to agree; remember, it's her life you are discussing.
- Don't overwhelm your loved one with questions. It may take several discussions over a period of days to cover all the areas you feel are important. However, be sure to make a definite time for the next discussion or there is a danger that the subject is brushed back under the carpet.
- This may be a good time to share your thoughts and plans for your own aging. Let your loved one feel that she's not alone in her concerns.