February 26, 2020

As a member of the Sandwich Generation, watching your parents grow older can come with a lot of deep and complex emotions. Facing the prospect of having to start caring for the people who once took care of you can be incredibly daunting. It’s natural to have concerns, fears, and frustrations — even as you approach this transition with love and patience.

To make matters even more difficult, we know that it can also be challenging to talk with your aging loved ones about the things that matter most. Even if you’ve always been close and open with your parents, it can be tough to have frank and clear discussions about the many crucial topics that come along with aging, like: 

  • Long-Term Care. Would your loved one prefer to age in place at home, or transition into an assisted living facility? Would they be comfortable with an in-home caregiver? What modifications might they need to make to their home in order to keep living there independently over time? 
  • Money and Finances. Does your loved one have enough savings to last them through retirement? Do they have insurance? Are all of their accounts and policies up to date? How are they planning to pay for medical treatments, or long-term care?
  • Health and Well-Being. What health challenges might your parents face over time? Are there any lifestyle changes they can make now to be healthier in the future? Are they getting regular attention and care from a medical professional? Do they feel healthy enough to live at home? Are they dealing with mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, or the effects of social isolation or grief? Are they experiencing any cognitive changes, such as forgetfulness, confusion, or mood swings?
  • End-of-Life Planning. Does your loved one have a plan for how and where they plan to be buried? Have they left instructions, and considered funeral arrangements and costs?
  • Estate Planning. Does your loved one have a last will and testament? Have they created a trust, or thought about what to do with their most important assets — such as their home, or precious family heirlooms? Do they have an attorney to consult with about matters such as powers of attorney or their advanced healthcare directives?
  • Giving Up Driving. Is your aging loved one still able to drive safely? Realistically, can they use public transportation to get around safely and dependably? Would they benefit from driving services from a dedicated caregiver or companion? 

Having these talks will often mean touching on subjects that most of us would naturally rather avoid, including sickness, money, and even death. It can feel strange and intimidating to ask your loved one about their health, or other intimate matters. It can also be difficult to feel like you’re experiencing a role reversal with your parents, or permanently changing your relationship. You may be afraid of meeting resistance, or falling into an argument. Older adults may be evasive or try to get out of these conversations, due to their own fears of facing the future or feeling like they’re being forced to change their lifestyle or give up their independence. 

For all these reasons, many people tend to put off these important conversations until it’s too late.

Some fascinating research, published in 2016, suggests that while 79% of people see conversations about long-term care and planning for the future as “important,” less than a quarter of those people have actually had these crucial discussions with their family members.

The responsibility falls on both sides of the age gap. For instance, more than half of those 75 and older (53%) say that they “have not had a discussion about who will care for them when they are older if they need it.” Another 30% of adults over 75 say that they “are not planning to discuss their preferences for end of life care.” As for younger generations who may assume the role of family caregiver? According to the report, 82% think that it’s “important to talk to an older relative about who will care for them when they’re older” — and yet just 24% have actually had this conversation. 

When it comes to estate planning, a 2019 survey from Caring.com found that just around half of all people have “talked to a loved one about personally needing a will or living trust.” Another study found that 39% of adults feel that one of the hardest conversations to have with an aging parent will be about giving up driving — more than the 24% who find it hardest to discuss “their parent’s final wishes or wills.” 

While it may seem challenging to get started, having these tough talks can help you and your parents open a new door, and better prepare for the many transitions and decisions that lie ahead. 

As one family caregiver put it to Care.com

“When I initially broached the subject of my mother needing help she flat out refused… I told her she was being stubborn, as usual. But after consulting an elder care expert, I approached the subject differently. This time, I spoke to my mother from a place of empathy rather than frustration and the conversation went differently. My mother confided that she was afraid of becoming dependent on me. She worried how that would affect our relationship. She also didn’t want to hire a caregiver because she didn’t want a stranger in her home. After acknowledging my mother’s concerns, it was easier for us to talk about next steps. Eventually, we worked out a plan to hire a caregiver on a trial basis to help with meals, laundry and transportation.”

The takeaway? The sooner you get these conversations started — and the more open, empathetic, and patient you are in your approach — the sooner you and your elderly loved one can move forward together, and hopefully find a path that gives you both some well-deserved confidence and peace of mind.

Opening up a dialogue can sometimes feel impossible, but with a little bit of strategy and a lot of patience and respect, you can move these tough talks forward for the benefit of your loved one and yourself. Here are five important ways you can make it easier to approach difficult discussions with your aging parents: 

1.) Start As Early As Possible

The earlier you get started, the better. This way, you can have these weighty conversations at a time when everyone can focus on the discussion, and feel less pressured. On the flips side, waiting until after an accident, illness, or money issue can ramp up the stakes, and make it much harder to have a calm, measured, and open talk.

2.) Be Ready to Keep the Conversation Going

It may take some mental preparation and courage to get a difficult conversation started. Once you’ve broached the subject, though, don’t be afraid to let the conversation ebb and flow. Depending on your loved one’s needs, abilities, and preferences, it may be easier to have these talks in multiple parts — especially if you sense resistance, or if your loved one seems too tired or distracted to have the conversation. 

Moving forward, you may want to look for productive ways into the conversation. For instance, you could take advantage of a recent local news story, and use this as a frame for talking about important issues that matter to you and your loved one. Humor and storytelling can also be powerful icebreakers. If possible, try to bring up your most important concerns when the conditions are right for your loved one to hear and address them — for example, in a quiet and comfortable environment at a time when your parent feels relaxed and open. 

3.) Take Notes

Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and notes can help make difficult talks easier — before, during, and after the fact. 

Prior to sitting down with your elderly loved one, do some research on the topics that you want to talk about. For instance, if your goal is to approach the idea of hiring an in-home caregiver, you could find the names of some local companies to present, along with information that your loved one is sure to ask about, such as reviews or pricing. If you’re nervous about forgetting your talking points or ideas, sketch out an outline of the conversation, particularly your key ideas or any reminders you might need. 

During the conversation, you may want to take a few simple notes about your loved one’s thoughts and opinions, and follow up with more extensive details after the talk winds down. This may be especially important if you’ll need to share the discussion with a long-distance sibling, or keep a running notebook if you plan to have these crucial conversations over multiple sittings. 

4.) Get Everyone Involved

Don’t feel pressured to go into a difficult discussion all alone! If possible, wait until you can get all decision-makers involved in the discussion. Depending on your goals, you may also benefit from bringing in a third party that your loved one will listen to or respect. For example, your loved one may be more open to discussing their health needs or concerns with their primary physician present. Similarly, an attorney may be a great resource if you’re discussing estate planning, while your loved one’s religious leader may be able to contribute to discussions about end-of-life planning or other major transitions. 

5.) Be Patient, Empathetic, and Willing to Listen

Above all, remember to go into these conversations with love, patience, kindness, and empathy. Rather than trying to control the conversation, be open to truly hearing your loved one’s thoughts and concerns. Speak honestly and openly, and avoid trying to pressure your loved one, or “baby” them. Remember that you’re talking to another adult. Be compassionate, and remember that things that may seem small to you might be a big concern for your loved one. Start small, and don’t be afraid to take your time and respect your loved one’s boundaries, giving them space to consider their options and change their mind when appropriate. 

Remind your loved one that you are looking out for their best interests. Don’t be afraid to discuss your own experiences and concerns, but try to avoid language that feels forceful or accusatory. It may help to frame things in a way that leaves them feeling empowered and independent — such as talking about getting them “help,” rather than “care,” for example. 

About Companions for Seniors

If you have any questions about providing the best possible care for your aging loved one, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors today to continue the conversation. 

At Companions for Seniors, empowering elders and their caregivers is our passion, and we’re happy to talk over any thoughts or questions you might have about any aspect of the caregiving process. We’re always here to bounce ideas off of, and help you find the best course of action for yourself and your senior loved one.

Our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle and improve their quality of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one age in place with ease. We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs. Don’t hesitate to reach out today using our handy online portal, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to get the conversation started.