4 important conversations to have with aging parents

It's important to talk about the things no one wants to talk about and have an open, honest dialogue with your parents

Daughter with aging mother

Thinking about the future can be overwhelming at the best of times, but especially when people you care about are entering their golden years. Considering the future can be a stark reminder of one’s own mortality and an uncomfortable subject for all involved.

Unfortunately, this fear of the taboo often leads us to put important conversations on the back-burner. This head-in-the-sand approach doesn’t stop the future from arriving, but it does pose challenges when certain scenarios arise.

Here are six important conversations to have with your aging parents — for their benefit and yours.

Long-term care plans

The thought of leaving home or relinquishing independence is incredibly overwhelming for many senior citizens. Unfortunately, aging poses challenges for both the body and the mind. On the lighter side, home maintenance tasks may become dangerous or difficult to perform. Then there are the concerns around falling or forgetting important things.

Ideally, you’ll start having the conversation about long-term care plans well before your parents need them. Discuss the various scenarios and what measures can be put in place to help your parents age at home. You can hire local service providers to handle maintenance tasks, or have family members take over. For safety concerns, making the home more accessible or rearranging so the laundry or bedroom is on the main floor can help.

Having these conversations now can help identify steps to take and signs that it’s time for a change before emotions get too high. It also provides more time to plan and enact these changes without extra stress. Take this opportunity to determine whether your parents have insurance coverage for long-term care or if you’ll need to start planning for these financial obligations.

End-of-life planning

End-of-life planning is another taboo subject that often gets ignored or overlooked. However, it’s one of the most important conversations you can have throughout your life — ideally before you reach the senior years.

Talk to your parents about their end-of-life plans and desires. Having this conversation sooner rather than later will give you time to learn more about the available options and put a plan together. For example, according to the end-of-life specialists at Three Oaks Hospice, many people are unaware that hospice care can take place at home.

This is also the time to talk about their funeral wishes, put any advance directives in place, and discuss a will. Having legal paperwork is a tremendous stress reliever during a difficult time.

It’s entirely possible that your parents will have a plan in place with a legal will, and clearly outlined instructions and bequests. Even so, this is an opportunity to find out where that information is stored and get a better understanding of their wishes.

Budgeting and financial planning

Finances are another tough conversation worth having with your aging parents. While it can feel awkward to broach this subject, it’s worth taking the initiative. In many situations, parents facing financial challenges are too proud to ask for help; they might not tell you unless you ask.

This conversation can be rolled into discussions about long-term care and end-of-life planning. Ask them if they have any outstanding debts, where their income is coming from, and if there are any struggles in paying bills. Offer to look over their finances or consult with a financial advisor to see if there’s room for improvement. You can also frame it as checking to see if there are opportunities to save on utilities, and so on.

Fears and goals to address

Toward the end of your life, you start thinking about the bigger picture: things you’re afraid of, unrequited dreams you missed out on, choices you would have made differently. Having conversations about these subjects is a powerful way to connect with your parents and help them take control of their golden years.

Ask your aging parents if there are any goals they wish they had accomplished — bucket list items or big trips they wish they had taken. Maybe they dream of having a huge family reunion and seeing everyone together. Then, see what you can do to make these dreams come true.

It’s also worth talking about fear and regrets. It’s never too late to share what you’re afraid of or make amends with estranged loved ones.

Finally, use this conversation to talk about life lessons and memories gathered along the way. What are their best memories? What wild stories from their youth have they never shared? What do they want people to know them for? Consider capturing these missives in an heirloom journal. Remember, not all important conversations have to be difficult.

Final thoughts

It’s important to talk about the things no one wants to talk about and have an open, honest dialogue with your parents. Remember to treat them with respect and dignity as you navigate these challenging conversations. You’ll all be better for it.

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