How To Talk To Parents About Aging

After my mom had a brain hemorrhage due to complications from MS, she required 24-hour care. And, even though she had MS and we knew what the eventual outcome might look like for her, we did not have a plan. We just assumed everything would somehow work out. Now, I give presentations to local community groups and businesses on how to talk to parents about aging.

The truth is the majority of people don’t plan ahead for long-term care until a crisis occurs. You’ve probably heard stories or maybe you have experienced a crisis yourself. Unfortunately there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to planning for long-term care. That’s why conversations are so important. In this article I’ll share the 6 conversations you should have right now with your aging parents or loved ones to start planning for their long-term care.


Why is Planning Ahead So Important

Before we talk about the 6 conversations, I think it’s important to understand why it’s so important to start planning ahead now for aging and long-term care.

There is a growing crisis in our country when it comes to caring for the elderly. First of all, we are living longer. In fact, new medical breakthroughs could eliminate chronic conditions such as Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It’s estimated that this year the over 50 segment of our population will have grown 74% while the under 50 segment will have grown only 1%. Who is going to care for our aging parents?

Health care costs continue to climb, including the costs for institutional care. With an estimated 70% of people over the age of 65 requiring some sort of long-term care, where will our parents go, who will care for them and how will we pay for it?


Fears and Challenges of Getting Older

If you’re like me, you are probably more concerned about how your parents will react when you try to have a conversation with them about getting older. My mom and dad never wanted to talk about it. It was something that would just work itself out somehow. The truth is, they had fears and challenges of getting older, they just didn’t want to burden us with it.

So, on the one hand are the kids who don’t want to risk upsetting mom and dad. On the other hand are mom and dad who don’t want to burden the kids. How’s that going to work out? Well, you’ll find out when there’s a crisis!

The typical fears and challenges most people have of getting older include:

  • Running Out of Money
  • Losing Relationships
  • Chronic Illness
  • No Place to Go
  • Being a Burden


Common Excuses For Not Planning Ahead

Given all the reasons why we should plan ahead, why do people put it off. Some of the common excuses people have for not planning ahead for their long-term care include:

  • I’m in good health, I’m going to live a long time and won’t need it.
  • No one in my family has ever needed it.
  • My family has a history of early deaths and poor health. I’ll die first.
  • If that happens, just take me out and shoot me. This was my dad’s go-to excuse!
  • I’ll have a gun under my pillow and that will solve it.
  • I’m a Veteran and the VA will take care of me.
  • Uncle Jim got along just fine with the government paying for his care.
  • I’ll move in with my daughter. It’s time for them to take care of me. Well, there’s that!! 🙂


It’s Always Too Soon to Talk…Until It’s Too Late

Planning ahead for long-term care does not mean creating a will or having a power of attorney. Nor does it mean having an estate plan and long-term care insurance. While these things may be the means to achieving a plan, they are not the plan.

The plan comes from having the right conversations so that you understand your parents’ desires, wishes and fears about getting older. Then, you came come up with a plan together.

Approach your parents with an open heart and it will guide you through these conversations.


The 6 Conversations To Have Now

These must-have 6 conversations to have with your parents come from an excellent book I read called The Parent Care Solution by Dan Taylor. I highly recommend it if you’re thinking about talking with your parents. The book goes in to more detail about each conversation and gives you tips on how to actually begin the discussion with your parents.

These 6 conversations are specifically designed to focus on the primary areas of deep support that must be addressed so that your parents can feel a high level of self-determination.
They are designed to discover in each area what we (or our loved ones) are most concerned about, what they are most excited about, and what strengths or advantages they bring to each situation to help them minimize their concerns, maximize their opportunities, and reinforce their strengths.
There are no preconceived ideas in these conversations…there are only the questions and answers to them.

1. The Big Picture Conversation

The first conversation is the Big Picture Conversation. It is designed to get an overall understanding of how your parent or loved one views the future and their willingness to talk about their long-term care. If they don’t trust you, you have a difficult path ahead of you.
The way to ask this question is “If you were to look back on your life, what would your long-term care have looked like? This way you are not asking them to make a decision about what they want to do right now but rather what their long-term care would have looked like. It’s a way to find out what they’re excited about and what they fear.

My mom, for example, enjoyed being around her grandchildren and didn’t want to live in a facility. It was important for her to be around family. She was also concerned about being a burden to her children. Armed with that knowledge, we could make some decisions on what her care would look like.

2. The Money Conversation

The Money Conversation is the name for the process you use to do an inventory of all the financial assets that you (parents, loved one) have so that you can determine any number of things important for planning the future:

  1. How much you / they have?
  2. How much you/they have?
  3. How much you/they owe?
  4. What is working?
  5. What isn’t working?
  6. What you/they want to change.

The goal of the Money Conversation is to 1) get an understanding of what you understand about what you have and 2) to get specific financial information to verify those understandings.

This is often a very difficult conversation to have. It was for my family because we never talked about money. Our parents are from a different generation.

There could be other underlying issues as to why they are uncomfortable talking about their money. Maybe they are embarrassed by how little they saved. Or, they might be afraid to give you a peak at what you might inherit.

The goal here is to earn their trust.

3. The House Conversation

The House Conversation is potentially the most emotional and conflicted conversation that you will have with your parents / loved ones. After all, home is where the heart is. The home is full of memories.

The home also represents at a symbolic level independence, autonomy, control, and status.

The key here is that you aren’t asking mom or dad to “decide” now what to do with the house but to imagine a future where they are not in the house and to describe for you what has happened along the way for them to feel good about the hypothetical decision to leave.
The question to ask here is “if you were to look back on your life, what would have had to happen to the house for you to feel good about it?”

4.The Care Conversation

This conversation gets a glimpse into how your loved one feels about long-term care should they need it. The question to ask here is “if you were to look back on your life, what would the care you received (if you needed it) look like?”

Where did your go (i.e., a facility)? Or, did you receive care at home?

Some older adults fear living alone or being isolated so the thought of living in an assisted living facility surrounded by others is actually very appealing to them. Others, not so much. If you do have the facility conversation, ask them to describe details. What does the place look like, feel like, activities, etc.?

Ultimately, this conversation should give you an idea as to how your parent or loved one will want to receive care should they require it. Oftentimes all we need to know is whether they are open to a facility or do they want to remain at home. Once you understand their wishes, fears, etc., the solution becomes much easier

5. The Property Conversation

Personal property is often a symbol of power, influence and status. There are often sibling rivalries over parent’s property and belongings.

What are your parent’s concerns (or fears) about their personal property and what happens to it? Are there certain things they want certain people to have?
This conversation strives to avoid all that turmoil…

6.The Legacy Conversation

This conversation is about how your parents (or loved ones) want to be remembered. What have their accomplishments been? How do they want to be thought of? How do they NOT want to be remembered?

The great thing about this conversation is that there is time to change their legacy. If there are things they don’t want to be remembered for, how will they change that? If they want to be remembered for accomplishments they have not yet realized, there is time to get to it!

Legacy is about confident conversation because there is so much fear to transform.


In Summary

I know this was a long article and realize that these are potentially difficult conversations to have. I have spoken with a lot of families struggling with having these conversations. I also work with some organizations in my home town that help people plan ahead for their long-term care. These six conversations are the cornerstone for the work I do. If you have any questions, or if I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Thanks.

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