1. Pick a time when everyone is relaxed and congenial. Plan on having a series of conversations.
2. Choose your words carefully. Remember that your parents are still competent adults and that they have their own ideas. Don’t be judgmental and criticize past decisions. Leave negative history in the past.
3. Discuss and understand their healthcare wishes and know where important documents are kept. If necessary, documents such as a living will, burial instructions and a durable power of attorney have not been made, suggest seeing an elder law attorney.
4. Be patient. Your parents need to know you are acting out of love and concern for them. Let them know that you want and expect them to be involved in any and all decisions. Respect the fact that their desires … and perspective … may differ from yours.
5. Position the conversation as part of planning for the future (even if some issues may need to be addressed immediately). Your parents may be healthy and independent now but in older years, changes in health can happen quickly. Ask for their input. Where do they realistically see themselves in 3 years? In 5 years?
6. Some parents can be manipulative and try to make children feel guilty if they do not respond immediately to every call for help. The adult child needs to set limits on what he or she can do and to suggest outside help for chores beyond their ability or time constraints.
7. Look for the strengths that have helped your parents persevere in the past. Emphasize and utilize attributes such as their past good choices, coping skills, cultural values, talents and achievements when you make suggestions.
8. Nobody is considered an expert authority by his or her own family. The Eldercare Locator web site (www.aoa.gov/elderpage/locator.html) has information on a variety of community resources.
9. Put the conversation you are having into a universal context by pointing out that the challenges confronting adult children of senior parents and the seniors themselves are similar everywhere. Point out your wish to balance their desire for independence with their future well-being. Provide them with information for state and federal assistance programs for older Americans which may be found at www.benefitscheckup.org
10. Talk about the outstanding contributions of their generation, their personal importance to your family structure, and do not diminish their status as senior citizens.
By Jean Cherni, former Senior Consultant for Premier Transitions Senior Relocation Services
For more information, call Maureen Campbell, Senior Vice President, Premier Transitions at 203-623-7418 or email her at Maureen.Campbell@PremierTransitions.com