Taking the First Step
For years, your parents have helped you through life’s most challenging situations. You have turned to them for their input and advice. Is it time to return the favor?
Although some things may be better left unsaid, having a conversation with your parents about aging is not one of those things. In fact, when it comes to having the conversation about senior living, you might say it’s always too soon until it’s too late.
This describes the circumstances too many of us find ourselves in when it comes to realizing the major transitions we face with our parents as they age. That’s why Brookdale is dedicated to helping you and your older adult parent begin a dialogue today. This conversation will help you plan as a family for life’s natural transitions into old age and support you in finding the right senior living option.
The Gift of Conversation
One of the best gifts you can give yourself, and your aging parents, is to start the conversation about how they see themselves living out the rest of their lives. Although it may be hard to talk to your aging parent about difficult subjects, such as getting older, needing help, or planning to move to a senior living community, it is better to start the conversation when they are in good health rather than in the midst of a health crisis.
Many of us are in denial about our own aging process and have not planned for the future. No one wants to picture one’s self needing help with walking, bathing, toileting or eating. But if the topic of your parents aging is approached with respect and with the intention of involving your parents in helping to set their own course, the conversation can be less stressful and more productive.
More often than not, these important conversations about senior living do not happen. Even though both generations have thought about what will happen next, few seem to act on it. By sitting down at the table, you and your aging parent have the opportunity to ask the right questions, evaluate options and decide on a plan together.
This will reassure your parent that they will be taken care of as they age. It will also provide comfort as you learn more about your parent’s wishes and values as they age. This article is designed to help educate you on how to start the conversation and support you as you walk with your parents on their aging journey.
Studies show that few families have these types of conversations until a major event occurs. Often it begins with a visit home by children during which time it becomes apparent that Mom or Dad is having trouble with normal daily activities. Although it is critical to bring up these subjects before a crisis arises, you should keep it casual. Don’t overwhelm Mom and Dad. Let them feel your love and concern.
Remember, helping your parents to plan for the future is not only important for their well-being as they age, but it will also have a positive impact on your emotional well-being.
Some organizations and individuals advocate the “70-40 Rule.” That is, when your parent is 70 or older, and you are 40 or older, it is time to have conversations about aging and the future. Look forward to these conversations with your parents and use the opportunity to get to know them better.
Getting the conversation started is really a wonderful gift you can give your parents and your entire family. It is a way to honor your parents and help them look forward to what comes next in their lives. The best advice is to plan carefully and think through such conversations so that they are as positive and productive as possible. Write down what you think needs to be discussed so you have a plan that will help guide your conversation and help you remember important questions.
If crisis hits, and no one has addressed the subject of what your parents want, it can be extremely difficult to make the right decisions under such challenging circumstances. Planning ahead now can avoid headaches and heartache later on. Ideally, you should plan together before any major crisis occurs, such as a bad fall or illness.
It is helpful to review a few important concepts before you plan to schedule your conversation. The preparation you do ahead of time, combined with a respectful and supportive approach, will help create a path for a successful outcome and appropriate solutions.
Prepare for the Conversation About Senior Living
Try not to approach this important opportunity as “The Conversation,” but as an ongoing series of conversations. Address one issue at a time rather than trying to resolve everything at once. It is less intimidating that way. What you’re trying to establish is an ongoing, honest conversation about everything related to your parent’s future.
You don’t need to try to get all the answers you want today. You don’t need an answer at all today. You’re laying the groundwork to understand your parent’s feelings, wishes and needs. You want to get information and share information. This will happen little-by-little over time. No need for the high pressure techniques so you can get to a “yes” on the most important questions in the first conversation.
Be a “partner” not a parent. As a parent you are in charge. You make the rules. You set the agenda. Negotiation is not necessary. As a “partner” you have a mutual interest and a common goal. The idea that a role reversal takes place in the relationship between you and your parents is neither true nor helpful. That is probably not what you want or what your parents need. A shift in your relationship may occur as you guide these conversations, but you should not consider yourself the expert or that you “know what is best.”
It is best to start the conversation while your aging parents are fairly healthy, when there are no apparent concerns. That way you do have the time to build slowly and have conversations about every area of their life and health without panic or pressure. Outline your discussion points. Consider putting together a script or an outline so you have something to follow and don’t forget important points. You don’t need to have it in front of you, but it will help you organize your thoughts before you begin the conversation.
You’ll want to time your conversations appropriately. Make sure your parent has time to talk and you have time to listen. Don’t start an important conversation if you need to walk out the door in the next 5 minutes.
To have a respectful conversation requires an investment of time and patience. It is important to create some “safe space” according to how Mom or Dad would define it. In other words, the holiday dinner table is not the place to talk to elderly parents about a sensitive issue.
Maybe you need to be at a neutral site, outside their home or at a quiet restaurant, to talk about their house or where they want to live in the future. Other family members may need to be present especially if they can help create a “safe space,” like a sibling, family member or friend who makes your parent feel particularly comfortable and relaxed.
Here are key considerations when preparing to start the senior living conversation:
- Begin with some soul searching and consider your personal point of view. Why do you want to have these conversations? What do you want for yourself and for your parents? What are your fears or concerns? What would be your best-case scenario? What do you want to happen?
- Contact your siblings and all family members who should be part of the discussion about how and when to have the conversation with your parents. Even if they cannot be present it is good to collaborate with family members, get their input and know that you mutually support each other throughout your parents aging process.
- Walk in your parents' shoes. Be sensitive and empathetic. Approach the conversation with respect and a caring heart. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they’re still able to do the things they want. Let them know you care about how they are, how they feel about their own aging and what they want the rest of their life to be like.
- Be prepared to listen. Sometimes you are afraid to hear what parents are feeling because it also makes you face getting older. Let them talk and let them know you hear them. Be open to asking questions and hearing the complete answer before offering an opinion or advice. Listening shows respect -- a key ingredient for a successful outcome.
- One way to start a conversation is by asking a question: “Gee, Dad, I’m considering long-term care insurance – what do you think? Do you have any?” or, “Mom, I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about planning for later years. I’m going to revise my will and make sure my legal documents are all set. What about you – can we talk about this for you?”
Start the Conversation
The best strategy is to start the conversation with your parents before any crisis. Keep it simple, start slow with one issue at a time and offer options and choices. Ask open-ended questions, listen and encourage your parents to share their feelings.
We hope you will agree that getting the conversation started really is a wonderful gift that you can give your parents as well as your entire family. It is a way to honor your parents, maintain their dignity and help them look forward to what comes next in their lives – feeling prepared and positive.
If you still feel nervous or anxious about starting the discussion about senior living options with your parents, run your ideas past other family members or a professional. You may want to consider getting a neutral party involved. Professionals such as physicians, case managers, social workers, lawyers or financial advisers can help navigate the many issues related to aging.
You might also consider a social worker, geriatric care manager or representative from a local senior center or retirement community. Their expertise and experience can be invaluable in helping support you and your parents find solutions to your challenges and provide a positive path to all the places life can go.
For more help with starting the conversation, contact a Brookdale national senior living advisor at the number listed above.