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Family Eldercare Issues: How Not to Have "The Talk"

eldercare conversation with daughter and aging parentSome of the most common questions our care managers get revolve around how to approach concerns with aging parents. Talking to friends recently reinforced how many of us worry about this.  We see a growing concern, such as a parent losing their hearing or having more difficulty managing the household, and we wonder how to bring it up and how they will react.  This also relates to “the talk” about future planning (i.e. will it be reasonable to stay in your large home if Dad dies, do you have long-term care insurance/what can you afford, contingencies for handling affairs).

The good news is that those who are thinking about this issue have avoided a big mistake, which is not to think about the approach at all.  Here are a few of the top mistakes you can make in “having the talk” about eldercare issues or planning with aging parents (and tips for making things go more smoothly):

  1. Waiting too long to have the talk/doing it in a crisis.  “The talk” should almost always be a series of talks, allowing time for your loved one to voice concerns and not feel pressured.  There may be times when this is difficult due to an unexpected crisis, but even then it may be helpful to take a step back and give your loved one some time to process the changes.  There may be ways to “buy time” or make a more temporary decision to deal with the crisis, while allowing time for permanent decisions.  But, most eldercare issues build up over time, with various opportunities for starting the discussion.
  2. Not thinking about the person’s perspective/personality and what approach might work best for him/her.  As mentioned above, the fact that my friends were thinking about how best to bring up an issues shows they were taking a positive step.  A difficult conversation in some families may be a non-issue in others.  Some older adults bring up driving with their children and tell them they have decided it is best to stop.  Others fight tooth and nail about giving up the car keys.  Family relationships, personalities and various factors affect how these conversations will go…and how they should be approached.  Think about what matters to the person, motivations and how the person is likely to react (fears/concerns that may arise).
  3. Not bringing the right people to the table.  It is likely that you should discuss the issues first with siblings to get on the same page (or find out if you’re not).  The same holds true for spouses and other important people in your loved one’s life.  If you don’t have their involvement, all the conversation may be fruitless.  You can also do a lot of future damage by not including your siblings or other key people.  If you know this is going to be problematic, consider having a care manager serve as a liaison in the process.  Additionally, think about any key figures of respect in your aging parent’s life.  Is there a pastor, doctor, or friend who might be helpful in the discussion?
  4. Treating an aging parent like a child.  The words we use can either frame the conversation in a way that treats the person respectfully or makes him/her feel defensive and disrespected.  Check our “Recommended Reading for Caregivers” for great books on this topic.  A geriatric care manager can also be an excellent resource about how to approach the conversation and ways to make sure choices and dignity are inherent in the process.
  5. Coming unprepared/not doing your homework.  While the first conversation may not immediately be about choosing a solution, you should come prepared with ideas and information.  If you are going to discuss getting some help around the house or giving up driving, you should know what resources are available.  Your aging parent is likely to raise practical concerns such as costs.  You don’t have to know all the answers, but it helps to have some ideas.  You may want to meet with a care manager beforehand to get some information, or suggest that as a next step to discuss options with an expert.


Need help “having the talk” or doing your homework to know the eldercare options available for your aging parent in Florida?  Aging Wisely’s geriatric care managers serve Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties in Florida.  We offer a range of services from eldercare consultations to geriatric assessments and ongoing care coordination.  Contact us at 727-447-5845 for help today!

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