Having the Difficult Conversation

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Why is it so hard to talk to our aging parent about difficult subjects, such as getting older, needing help, or planning for being dependent? Sometimes, the elder involved just can’t face it. Sometimes, they are in denial about their own aging process and are afraid of the future. Who can blame them? No one wants to picture one’s self needing help with walking, bathing, toileting or eating. But, it must be done. If crisis hits, and no one has addressed the subject of what the elder wants, it can be enormously stressful on the adult children. Some of the stress can be avoided. Parents are living longer, but that often means living with impairments of advanced age. Everyone with an aging parent needs to have conversations about the future, and the possibility of needing help.

Sometimes, it is the adult child or children who refuse to look at the future. They want Mom or Dad to be fine, as they’ve always been. They do not want to take over the role of “parenting” their own parent. Yuck! What it really means is that the parent is getting closer to the end of life, and we can’t bear the thought. Denial is common on both sides. Some adult children avoid the subject of the future more than their own parents do. Parents may already be confronting the issues of aging, as it is their bodies which are changing, slowing down, and in some ways, failing. Their siblings, peers and friends may have died or become infirm. They are not strangers to the subject of what can happen. 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 those conversations.

If you find it very awkward to begin, pick a specific date. Before a holiday, birthday, or other occasion which brings family together, you might suggest meeting with the parent(s) to talk about the future after the celebration. For example, “Dad, after Mary’s birthday party, I’d like to stay over and have a family meeting.” Bring up the subject of planning what to do in case a parent has to go in the hospital. That is a good place to start.

If your aging parent is already showing some signs of needing help, such as struggling to keep track of finances, it’s time to bring up the subject of a Durable Power of Attorney for finances. Sometimes one topic can open the door to others, such as getting some help in the home with shopping, cooking or laundry. Don’t be discouraged if your aging loved one resists. It’s normal. Keep bringing it up, and keep trying. Waiting until a crisis forces you to talk about it is foolish. A crisis, such as a stroke or a serious fall, can deprive you of your chance for a discussion.

For those who are struggling with these issues, tools are available to help you. A comprehensive DVD, with every relevant subject covered in detail, is available online at HelpWithElders.com. Action Guides, charts and techniques are suggested. Look for the Aging Parents DVD and order today. Don’t wait for a crisis.

@2008, Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N., Attorney at Law

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