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Starting the Conversation About Elder Care With Aging Parents

By Betsy Gold, Co-Founder, LeanOnWe

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For many of us, a week does not go by without someone raising the topic of home care for an aging parent. The path to resolution is a long one. Parents are often resistant, or even in denial. Grown children are worried about safety, hygiene, driving, or having enough food in the fridge. Sometimes we live far from our parents; for others, we’re close by but managing a full-time job and a family. But we all know what we have to do: Start the conversation.

The conversation is often just as awkward for adult children as it is for aging parents. It’s no small task to watch roles reverse, mental and physical deficiencies increase, and tensions rise. Like many difficult things in life, compassion and truthfulness are the best strategies. This is particularly so -- yet even more challenging -- when the conversation has to happen between you and your parents. But there it is: time is moving on and you can’t avoid it any longer. Here are suggestions for getting started. And overall, be compassionate. This asks a lot of adult children of aging parents as emotions run high in families, but this is the time to put old pain and conflict aside. You are the healthy and strong one. Now it’s your turn to show compassion and gentleness.

Listen More, Talk Less

In your work life, or when negotiating with your kids, you may have heard the term “active listening.” There’s never a better time to put this into play than when you’re having this elder care conversation with your aging parent. Ask questions about very specific aspects of daily life: paying bills, sleeping, managing medications, fending off loneliness, remembering a doctor’s appointment. And then, listen. You know your parent, so you’ll be able to read between the lines and define the real needs. Trust yourself to listen. Then, trust yourself to weigh in on what you’ve heard. Acknowledge fears. Let’s face it: you probably don’t know what it feels like to see the beginning of the end of your independence. But it’s likely that your parent already notices that certain familiar tasks and pleasures are more difficult. Acknowledge that it may be unsettling -- even frightening -- and find a way to reassure without denying the hard parts. Knowledge is power. Have some hard facts at hand.

Home Care Cost Concerns

Even the fortunate among elderly adults may be worried about what elder care costs, about what they want to leave behind to children or grandchildren, how little it costs to live in the home in which the mortgage has been paid off for 25 years. Arm yourself with some numbers: anticipated hours of care per week, estimated costs per hour, a list of helpful tasks a caregiver can perform. Write it down on a piece of paper so Mom or Dad can think about it after the visit is over. This will give your senior some semblance of control in a situation that feels shaky and uncertain. Have a pilot plan in mind. Come to the table with a palatable, short-term recommendation. Suggest hiring an in-home caregiver for a few short periods each week, with specific projects or tasks to accomplish: food shopping, a trip to the bank, laundry, a walk outdoors. Start small and be specific.

Enlist Outside Help

If you know home help is needed but can’t seem to convince your parent, try enlisting the support of a physician, a trusted friend, or a geriatric care manager who specializes in working with seniors. Sometimes it's easier for someone to talk to a professional rather than a relative, especially if emotions are getting in the way of good decision.

About The Author

Betsy is a LeanOnWe co-founder and leads the Care Advisor Team that provides day-to-day support for their clients. Before LeanOnWe, Betsy was an award-winning journalist and business editor.

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