Talking about the needs of our ageing parents can be uncomfortable for both parent and adult child. Topics such as money, health, end-of-life care and even driving are often emotional land mines and no one wants to step in. It’s natural that no one wants to contemplate infirmity one day, but it’s wise to know your parents’ preference before a crisis happens. For older adults the topic is uncomfortable, stir up fears of losing independence and control, and that’s why resistance. If you’re wondering how to start a discussion with an ageing parent about a sensitive topic, you’re not alone. If you feel uncomfortable or the vital conversation is not happening the way you deem fit, then better to involve professionals.
Sometimes starting the conversation is very easy and you may not face any resistance. Our social gerontology practice taught us that there are fundamentally two different types of parents. Parents with whom you have a relationship in which you can be straightforward and they welcome your ideas and feedback, and those who tend to be more adamant or private and don’t welcome this kind of discussion—and may even find it somewhat insulting. Unfortunately, Ranjana’s mother falls in the second category.
Take the case of Ranjana and the story of her struggle with her old mother. Ranjana’s mother behaves as if she’s still the principal of the school, never listens to anyone, adamant and uncompromising. Long time back she retired from Kendriya Vidyalaya but she lives in the past. Ranjana always had a contentious relationship with her independent mother, and things got worse with time almost on the verge of estrangement. Eventually it happened, and Ranjana was not surprised because she expected it. Ranjana’s mother fell and injured herself. Afterwards, she became increasingly frail and everyone thought she will mellow down but she continues to be adamant and refused to accept help. Ranjana wanted to broach the topic of long-term care with her mom but was afraid it would backfire.
What next? Adult children in most cases adopt arm twisting and force their parent into accepting help — only to feel angry and dismayed when their efforts fail. “Mom, I’m worried that you’re no more able to live independently and not safe at home. So I suggest assisted living and I think it’s best for you.” In most cases it doesn’t work. But, if your mother refuses help altogether and her safety is at stake, you have the right to become firm and harsh. Sometimes, as Ranjana discovered, approaching us and her trusted friend can make a difference.
“When I initially broached the subject of my mother needing help she flatly refused,” Ranjana explained. “I told her she was being stubborn, as usual. But after consulting you, you suggested me to approach the subject differently. As you suggested I spoke to my mother from a place of empathy without frustration and the results were encouraging. My mother confided that she was afraid of becoming dependent on me. She worried how that would affect our relationship. She was against a full time caregiver because she is uncomfortable to have a stranger in her home. First thing I did was to acknowledge my mother’s concerns, then it was easier for us to talk about next steps. Eventually, she agreed to hire a caregiver on a trial basis to help with grooming, medications, meals, and laundry.”
In Ranjana’s case it was only she who is the primary care giver. In most cases, you have to take other siblings into confidence before you broach the subject. Few of your siblings may differ so first is to reach a consensus between the brothers and sisters and then come up with options. Otherwise, your brother or sister will gang up against you and your plans. Ideally the family must be together.
When a parent is getting old and you feel that few things are to be straightened with regard to his or her long term care, estate and finances then it’s time to talk. It’s important to bring up the topic of long-term care before a crisis erupts so you can discuss the topic calmly, without a sense of urgency. This way, you’ll have a framework for putting a plan in place if and when the time comes. Does your father wishes to stay in his home as he ages? What if he needs additional help if the disability increases? Would he want to stay put or make a move?
We wonder why there is no research when it comes to addressing your parents needs. You do it for everything, even for the smallest purchases, you do a thorough check-up. When it comes to elderly parent, you gloss over. Learn about community resources – such as home nursing agencies, social gerontology consultations and adult day programs. If your parent requires more nursing care, research senior living options such as assisted living, or skilled nursing facilities. Unless you have appropriate information, you may not be able to satisfy or convince your parents.
Does your parent have enough savings, long-term care insurance or is she having pension benefits? It’s hard to determine the best options for care if you don’t know how you’re going to pay for it. Are your siblings going to pool? An elder law attorney or a financial planner can help you and your loved one sort out finances and fund long-term care.
Now comes the most difficult hurdle. Talking about end-of-life is a minefield that most families avoid, to their detriment. It’s good to explore and understand your loved one’s wishes before being faced with the urgency of a life-or-death decision. It is important to appoint a health-care proxy to make health-related decisions should your parent become incapacitated? Are legal documents in place, such as will or a power of attorney to enable someone to manage financial matters if your dad is unable to do so?
When broaching sensitive caregiving options, it’s best to position yourself as an advocate rather than an enforcer, phrasing concerns in a way that won’t take control away from your parent. Ranjana learned that after she acknowledged her mother’s fears and put aside her own. Eventually, it is our parents’ choice to decide what type of care they need and will accept and give precedence to it. As children, we can only do our best. We are obligated to help our parents with whatever challenges they face, so they can remain as independent as possible and live their best lives.