One day, our parents won’t be able to drive, to climb stairs, or maybe even change their own clothes or feed themselves. As painful as thinking about this might be, we need to prepare to help them be comfortable and safe in their last stages of their lives. Here are the things to consider.
No one wants to think about their parents at the end of their days, much less talk about it. In fact, 75% of adults haven’t had an in-depth discussion with their parents about things like living arrangements in retirement, long-term care, inheritance, and funeral wishes, according to a study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave. But it’s not just we adult children who are avoiding the “big talk”—nearly a third of people ages 50 and up haven’t even had such discussions with their spouse yet.
It’s the elephant in the room. It’s also one of the most important, difficult subjects you and your family will ever face. Sadly, your parents could one day be fine and then suddenly the next day need a great amount of care, so the more prepared you are in advance, the less stressful this might be for your whole family.
This isn’t a conversation that you can just bring up out of the blue one day over the phone with your parents and siblings—”So, mom, have you thought about moving to a nursing home?”—or during a holiday visit, when stress and family conflicts are already more likely to arise. It’s better to plan a family meeting with your parents and siblings (if you’re not an only child) and prepare for it by reassessing your own financial situation and feelings. (That could be the hardest part—getting through your own grief as you contemplate your parents’ last years and no longer having them in your life. Have a box of tissues on hand.)
When arranging the meeting, you can say: “The purpose of this meeting is to talk about getting mom and dad the best care for their needs and wishes as they get older” (or something similar but less awkward). Your parents or your siblings might be reluctant to have this talk, but make it a point that it’s important everyone is involved.
Shelly Sun, CEO and Co-founder of BrightStar Care, offers these tips:
- Have the conversation in person. Video chat, phone, or email won’t provide you with honest emotions or feedback.
- Prepare questions in advance so you won’t feel rushed or scrambling to get your thoughts together. (See below for some questions to ask.)
- During the conversation, provide undivided full attention so it won’t seem like you’re forcing an agenda.
- Write important points in a notebook to record details and to reference in the future.
Depending on your family, this could be a very heated conversation, a very quiet one, or maybe one that drags out every emotion you have. Whatever you do, listen. This might be the best example of a time when you need to stop thinking about what you’ll say next in order to truly listen to what the other person is saying.