The staff at Elder Counsel offers advice on discussing issues with elderly loved ones this season. Holiday family gatherings are often one of the few times the whole family can be together throughout the year. This time to catch up and reconnect makes for a joyous season. For adult children of elderly parents or loved ones, it can also provide an opportunity to assess needs and talk about some of the important issues around aging.
The transition into these later years in life can mark a challenging transition not only for the elderly themselves but for the family members and friends that support them. It can be difficult for adult children to talk to their aging loved ones about issues from self-care to estate planning, to end-of-life care and wishes.
Bringing up inherently tough topics as the holiday turkey is being carved is definitely not a good idea. Tactfully approaching the conversation means finding the right time, and not otherwise spoiling a good or joyous occasion. The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be stressful enough for the elderly if they are away from home or out of their normal day-to-day routine. Be mindful of that and don’t bombard them with questions or project your concerns or worries onto them.
It’s also important to consider who should — and who shouldn’t — be part of the conversation. Elder care is a private and sensitive matter, so it’s best to involve only the necessary parties in the conversation. Even if several family members will be present, it’s a good idea to appoint one person that can lead the conversation.
Pick a time where the necessary support network, including siblings, can be present. Respect your loved one’s privacy and don’t initiate conversations when friends or neighbors are present. You should also assess whether or not it’s appropriate for conversations to take place when young children or grandchildren are present. Having children present can put added stress on your elderly loved one. Keep in mind that some of the topics may be uncomfortable, or even frightening for young children.
Most importantly, remember that sibling rivalries or other family issues have no place in these conversations. If there are underlying conflicts, discussing the needs and plans for elderly parents can cause those to rear their ugly heads. If you think there will be potential for conflict, address it with siblings before you talk to your parent or loved one, and come up with a solution to avoid arguments.
Make a list and check it twice. No, not that kind of list. We’re talking about making a list ahead of time of the most important issues and items that need to be addressed. Bombarding your elderly loved one with too many things at once can cause them stress.
Determine what the most important issues currently are, and use it to guide your conversation. For example, if your loved one is successfully living independently but you know they’ve done no estate planning, start a conversation about meeting with a professional to discuss options. Save the conversation about what their wishes are if and when they can no longer live independently for a later time.
As a middle-aged adult, your responsibilities in life may be mounting. You may be balancing home ownership and child-rearing with a demanding career while embracing each new challenge and opportunity that comes your way. Your aging loved one, however, is beginning to let go of some tasks and responsibilities in these later years of life and settling into retirement.
This can feel like a loss of independence and, understandably, they will likely be hesitant to relinquish the reins on the things they can still control. It’s important to acknowledge this and to approach estate planning and elder care issues in a way that gives them a voice and choice over their own future.
If you attempt to make demands
or make decisions on their behalf, there will most certainly be a breakdown in communication that could be detrimental. By considering and embracing your different perspectives, however, you can learn to talk to your elderly loved one in a productive and caring manner. That way you’ll encourage more open and honest conversation about all of the issues that will arise in the coming years. And most importantly, you’ll show your loved one that you’ll advocate for them and that you have their best wishes and desires at heart.