Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Makelessnoise.

“If you don’t want to talk about this, or if you can’t, maybe you could just pray for a tornado to hit your parents the day before they get sick.”  – Shlomo F. Kreitzer, retired psychologist.

Rarely do I meet people who want to talk about planning for a loved one’s future aging and end of life. Rather, I meet then when they are in crisis, when they are already under tremendous stress to make decisions too quickly based on too little information.

I know because I was one of those adult daughters who thought my father would go on forever functioning independently. How wrong I was and how we both suffered as a result of my denial. This denial can lead to countless problems, stresses and ultimately to caregiver illness or depression.

Discussions with aging parents about how they envision their lives in the future should be held sooner rather than later. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, L.F.Lee.

Someone – either the adult child or parent – has to start the conversation about a parent’s plans for the future. Otherwise, a crisis will do it for you.

Caregiving can start gradually or it can start suddenly with a desperate phone call in the night. However it starts, in all probability you won’t be ready.

Key discussion points between parents and their adult children

  1. Ask parents what they want as they age. If they want to stay in their own home, should they be looking at home renovations to make it easier to go up and down stairs or use the bathroom if a wheelchair is or may be required?
  2. Understand the critical role of legal and financial planning. Start to gather information about your parents’ financial security. Learn where original documents are stored. Ensure your parents have prepared necessary documents, such as wills, advance directives and powers of attorney. Be prepared for some emotional encounters, but don’t give up.
  3. If you have siblings, talk about how you plan to divide responsibility for your parents’ wellbeing. Another way to start the conversation is to call a family meeting. This way everyone – parents and adult children – will understand the challenges and all will have a chance to participate in the solutions.
  4. If a parent live with a particular disease – heart or stroke, arthritis, diabetes, dementia – learn all you can now about the disease and what a caregiver can expect as it progresses.
  5. Learn about the healthcare system where your parents live and understand what alternate accommodations exist, how home care operates and what social services are available. Understand what the government does and does not pay for.
  6. Talk to your employer about your EAP program or other benefits that may assist family caregivers.

    Avoid these common mistakes
  • Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep i.e. ‘You can always live with us’ or ‘I’ll never put you in a care facility.’
  • Don’t concentrate on what your parents can’t do as they age. Focus on maximizing what they can do.

Some must do’s

  • Become educated and aware.
  • Understand and accept your feelings both positive and negative.
  • Talk with others also in your situation.
  • Involve your parents in decision making, whenever possible.
  • Ask for help. You can’t do it alone.

Think ahead and prepare yourself and your parents for what will happen, so when it’s all over you can honestly say: “I did the best that I could.”

Open communication about the future is the most powerful tool you have to help ensure you and your parents age gracefully together. It’s never too early to begin the critical care conversation.

About Karen Henderson
As the result of a life changing 14-year dementia care experience involving her father, Karen Henderson founded the Long Term Care Planning Network, a resource centre for aging and long-term care planning and education. She is a well-known speaker, educator, writer, publisher and consultant in the field of caregiving and long-term care. Anderson works with Canadians and their professional advisors across Canada to help them understand the implications of aging and long-term care on financial, personal and family wellbeing.