Aging Parents? When Is it Time to Have “The Talk”?

Aging Parents? When Is it Time to Have “The Talk”?

A recent article in the Mercury News focused on one of the topics that frequently surfaces around our offices. We call it Aging Parent Syndrome–what to do with aging parents who insist on staying in the family home—even though it’s become a burden and they can no longer care for it or themselves. Yet the family home is so much more than a house to seniors; it represents independence and all that’s familiar—it’s where raised their families and lived for decades. Just as it’s difficult to convince seniors that they should no longer be driving, convincing them to downsize or move into an assisted care facility can be just as challenging.

Children worry about their parents’ health and quality of life

Many grown children worry about their parents’ slipping and falling on stairs or icy sidewalks. About their getting proper nutrition, exercise and socialization. They worry about their parents’ being lonely and isolated, unable to care for themselves but too proud to ask for help. Many seniors live long, healthy, active lives. Those are the lucky ones. Many others experience physical and mental deterioration and require more supervision, if not 24/7 care.

Seniors are fiercely protective of their autonomy

In the Mercury News article, one woman had been trying to convince her father to move out of his San Francisco home, but he keeps putting her off. In his early 80s, he seems lonely since a stroke put her mother in an assisted living facility. He never learned to cook, so he now relies on takeout, and he struggles to get up and down the stairs to his bedroom.

While her father is still able to live independently, she worries about both his health and quality of life. She thinks that he would be happier if he were surrounded by other people. She would like to bring up the subject of assisted-care living again, but knows that this will infuriate him. She wants to enlist the support of her siblings during the holidays to convince their father to make this change. Yet she knows he is fiercely protective of his autonomy.

There are ways to make “the conversation” go more easily, getting the clarity to move forward. Other things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t put it off. These conversations optimally take place when parents are still active and independent—long before a stroke, fall or dementia leaves adult children scrambling to make housing or medical decisions.
  • It’s easier when parents take the initiative. One local couple in their early 80s has kept their four children in the loop about their estate and legal issues, including who has Power Of Attorney and Healthcare Directive.
  • Timing is key. If the holidays offer the only opportunity for families to have face time, they should pick a time and place where they can sit alone quietly and before anyone has had a glass of wine or other holiday cheer.
  • Stay positive. Stay calm and listen. The main point of the talk is for parents to be open about how and where they want to live out their lives and the activities they’d like to continue.
  • Start by planting a seed. Don’t go into a talk expecting to resolve major issues all at once. Plant seeds for future conversations and changes down the road.
  • Small changes lead to bigger ones. Children can use these conversations to find short-term solutions that lead to long-term changes. One man had Parkinson’s disease that affected his mobility, but he continued to drive, which made his family uneasy. Initially reluctant to give up driving, he agreed to let someone come in to his home and help him with some paperwork. This assistant also started to drive him places, and the man realized he could give up driving and still maintain his independence.
  • Costs may be an issue. Economics is nearly always part of this conversation. If a parent is worried he/she can’t afford something, perhaps children can pitch in. Donate your time—it’s a wonderful gift.
  • When professional help is needed. Talk to the parent’s doctor or enlist the help of a professional care manager or other third party. You may require legal help to take over the decision-making. If you’re worried your parent is a victim of neglect or fear health or safety is at risk, contact Adult Protective Services.

Part of “The Conversation”: Creating a Living Trust

At California Document Preparers, our comprehensive Living Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive. Creating a Living Trust should be part of this conversation. Identifying how your parents will distribute their assets as well as the smaller items that hold sentimental value avoids controversy and confusion at what will already be a very difficult time. If your parents already have a Living Trust, it may be time to update it. We encourage our clients to update their Trusts with major life events—births, deaths and important investments.

“The Conversation” is definitely worth it

As frightening as it can be for parents or children to initiate conversations about aging, illness, dying and preparing end-of-live documents, everyone feels better for having initiated it and for having formulated at least an initial plan and a timeline for downsizing, researching assisted care facilities and preparing a Living Trust. Our clients frequently tell us they’re surprised at just how easy it was to create their Living Trusts. Best of all, we’re there for you every step of the way. Make an appointment today to get started.