It’s Never Too Early to Start the Conversation: Talking to Parents About
Their Changing Needs©
By Karen Henderson
“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, a retired psychologist.
There are some things in life we don’t really want to think about; consequently we don’t plan for them. One of those ‘things’ is aging parents and their changing needs.
Whether we want to face it or not, eldercare is already a reality for the first wave of Canada’s 10 million baby boomers; many of us, however, are utterly unprepared to assume the role of caregiver for our aging parents. Some facts on caregiving now:
There are 4.5 million caregivers in Canada
They provide 80-90% of home care
Employees juggling work/family cost Canadian employers at least $2.6 billion/yr in lost time
Two-thirds of adult children have never talked with their parents about their long term care needs (American Association of Retired Persons – AARP)
Adult children often spend more years providing care for a parent than raising a child.
We somehow think parents will go on forever; but we suffer from our denial – denial which can lead to countless problems, stresses and ultimately to caregiver illness or depression.
Somebody – 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. When you are in crisis, you are under tremendous stress to make decisions too quickly, with too little information.
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.
So…how can you begin to prepare?
1. Expect and accept that your parents will grow old. Aging is not a disease; it is part of the life cycle.
2. Remember the 40/70 rule; when adult children are about the age of 40 and parents the age of 70, it’s time to start the care conversation, a conversation that could continue for months, even years before it is concluded. Talk to your parents about 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/down stairs or use the bathroom if a wheelchair is or may be required?
3. 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.
4. Talk to your siblings about how you plan to divide responsibility for your parents’ well being. Another way to start the conversation is to call a family meeting. This way everyone – parents and adult children – will understand the problems; all will have a chance to participate in the solutions. If a sibling is out of town, try to set up a teleconference. The only reason a parent should be excluded is if he is too mentally impaired to understand or contribute and would impair any progress.
5. If a parent suffers from a particular disease…heart or stroke, arthritis, diabetes, dementia…learn all you can now about the disease and what a caregiver can expect as the disease progresses.
6. Ask questions about the health care system in your parents’ province; understand what alternate accommodations exist, how home care operates, what social services are available.
7. Talk to your peers or professionals about how they are facing the challenges of eldercare, the problems they have encountered and solutions they have found.
9. Talk to your employer about your EAP program or other benefits that may assist family caregivers.
10. Finally, take an objective look at yourself. Are you prepared to be a caregiver for a parent? How will you accomplish this, along side your other roles as a business professional, parent, spouse?
- 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 home.’
- Don’t concentrate on what your parents can’t do; focus on maximizing what they can do.
- Become educated and aware.
- Understand and accept your feelings.
- Talk with others in your situation.
- Empower your parents.
- Involve your parents.
Think ahead and prepare yourself and your parents for what will happen so when it’s all over you can honestly say: “I have done the best that I can.”
Open communication with your parents is the most powerful tool you have to help ensure you and your parents age gracefully together. It’s never too early – or too late – to begin this critical conversation.