By: Allyson Stanton, LBSW, ALCP, Geriatric Care Manager and Owner of Stanton Aging Solutions
For those of us with aging parents, the time will come when we have to discuss sensitive issues, such as where they will live, who will make medical decisions, who will handle their finances and what their wishes are for their final resting place. You might be feeling nervous just starting to think about the answers.
I often wonder why we wait until they “age” or until they hit a particular birthday. Instead of thinking, “My dad is 85 years old, so now is the time to talk,” change your mindset to, “The time is now, and it has nothing to do with age.” The same goes for waiting until a parent starts to decline mentally or have other health challenges. By then it may be too late for them to make well thought out decisions, or it’s a far too sensitive time to start asking these tough questions. Timing is important.
Give Your Parent a Voice
When talking with loved ones, make the conversation about empowerment. Show them that you want to know how they feel and what they think so that you can honor their wishes. I like to refer to it as “aging life goals.” How do they see themselves five, 10, and even 15 years from now? One way to open this conversation is to share that you have been thinking about this for yourself. If you haven’t, then putting documents in place and sharing your wishes with your own children is something you and your parents can do together.
Listen Without Judgement
We all have preferences in what we imagine our older years will be like, and it is not about what we think is right or wrong. This isn’t the time to judge, but simply start the discussion and listen. A conversation starter could be, “Are there things that are really important to you that you want me to know?” and follow up with, “What do you not want?”
Set Your Ego Aside
You may think you are the best person to make these decisions, but it should be a family discussion. Because of my career, it’s not surprising that my gut reaction would be for me to talk to my mom about this and handle everything. However, my sister is a nurse and my brother is good with finances. Let your family know in advance that you’d like to talk about this. Call a family meeting. Feelings can get hurt when the family hasn’t thought through this before, or your parent could feel pressured. Sometimes revelations arise when parents have already decided on their representative but haven’t shared it with anyone — even the child.
So as hard as it is to put your ego aside, it is necessary for an honest conversation. Maybe one sibling or two should be the Medical POA/Health Care Agents, and another sibling can be the Financial POA. In any case, it should be someone who your parent trusts. The decision is theirs.
Do Some Research First
Before the discussion, you and other family members should prepare. Instead of presenting only the challenges of making these life decisions, be prepared to offer options. There are Aging Life Care Professionals, like us, who can begin to educate you about residential facilities, budgeting, healthcare services and so much more. Your local Office on Aging, financial planners and elder law attorneys can also provide guidance and support. We’re pleased to offer referrals from our trusted network.
By Allyson Stanton, LBSW, ALCP, geriatric care manager and owner of Stanton Aging Solutions www.stantonagingsolutions.com