Aging column: Why we must talk with aging parents
Over the years, I have been asked by a number of my friends for guidance in helping them try to figure out how to help their parents. One of the first questions I ask in response is, “What’s your relationship with your parents?”
Addressing issues about your parent’s health, financial and other plans, or lack of plans, for their senior years is often precarious at best. The conversation is going to have to address such topics as power of attorney, medical/durable power of attorney, estate planning and financials, along with a number of others that are quite personal.
My suggestion as the first step is to find out how much they’ve prepared for their future — healthwise, legally and financially. Find out if they have long-term care insurance, and if not, how they plan on paying for nursing home care or in-home help if necessary. You may want to ask, given a choice, if they want to remain at home or if they would choose an independent living community. Do they have an estate plan, family trust or other means of protecting their assets?
A good recommendation for starting such conversations is to tell your parents that you are starting to do planning for yourself and your family and want to know what they may have done to plan for themselves. Should they have plans intact, the conversation for the future may be somewhat easier. However, should they indicate they have only tinkered in planning, you can always say that you have researched a bit for yourself and family and want to know if you can share with them what you have learned.
Following are a few topics of discussion that should be noted for both yourself and your parents:
• Is your home still appropriate for your needs?
• Can you afford to stay in your home on your retirement budget?
• Can you manage the stairs, or would you do better on one level?
• Does your home have any safety hazards?
• Should you think about living somewhere else?
• Can you afford your retirement?
• Do your living expenses fall within your savings and/or earnings from investments?
• Are there funds allocated to pay for having a person help you remain independent and at home?
• Will Medicare, Social Security or a pension provide enough funding to enable you to live at an assisted living facility?
Regarding health and health insurance:
• What health problems do you have?
• Can you afford your prescriptions?
• Does your health insurance pay all your medical bills?
• Will your finances be such that Medicare or Medicaid will help?
There is no best time to have this conversation. However, initiating the conversation while your parents are healthy and when there may be no apparent medical concerns is optimal. Such preventative planning will enable adult children to build slowly and thus have a conversation that is not overshadowed with pressure and panic.
Starting a conversation with aging parents can be a sensitive issue for both the adult children and the aging parents. While many adult children have anxiety about embarking on this bit of parent-child role reversal, my suggestion is to simply not view it this way.
In most circumstances, the idea of an adult child “parenting” his or her aging parent lends itself to complication. Rather, it is my suggestion to simply address the situation with mutual respect and honor, as you may do with a peer. That lends itself to no one feeling “parental.” Address your concerns related to the parent’s health or situation in a honest and frank manner.
Somewhere within the conversation, you should encourage your parents to organize all their personal information in a place that they disclose to you. Items such as a will, power of attorney, do-not-resuscitate order, banking accounts, safety deposit box and financials are all necessary components of a plan.
All relationships change over time. If you have not established a healthy peer or equal adult-level relationship with your parents thus far, it is time to start. Talk to friends or look for books about speaking with aging parents — you are not alone.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield County. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526
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