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Communication with Senior Parents: Having "the Conversation" - Part 1

Posted by Steve Jones

Thu, Dec 12, 2013

It’s hard to watch loved ones grow older. No one wants to confront the declining health, lessening physical and mental abilities and loss of independence that usually come with aging; but if you wait too long, it can suddenly become a crisis. Then you’re not prepared emotionally and lack the facts you need to make difficult decisions. On the other hand, if you have "the conversation" with them early enough, you can plan for many contingencies and make potential choices based on what works best for your family rather than necessities forced on you by circumstance.

This is the first in a series of 3 articles about having “the conversation” with your aging loved one – what you need to discuss and options to consider. We will focus on three major areas of choice: lifestyle preferences, health and care needs, and financial considerations. The conversation may not be a single marathon discussion. It may take place over weeks or months. When circumstances change, earlier decisions may need to be revisited, but it is always easier when you have discussed options in advance.

Everyone has preferences for how they want to live. Some would prefer to stay as long as possible in the family home, maybe with some help from a home care service in Toronto; some are no longer interested in home maintenance and would rather move to a small condo where the yard work is done professionally; others don’t want to listen to the young neighbors’ loud music or screaming baby late at night and would prefer to live in a senior community.

All of these considerations come to bear in the conversation. Ask your loved one:

  • Where do you want to live? In the same neighborhood you’ve lived in for many years? Close to children and grandchildren? Urban, suburban or rural?
  • What cultural considerations exist?
  • What social ties are important – friends, church, ethnic community, etc.?
  • What about mobility – driving, public transportation or family chauffeuring?
  • What interests or hobbies do you want to continue?
  • What considerations are important regarding diet? Do you care whether you eat gourmet, home-cooked, or institutionally prepared food? Do medically necessary dietary restrictions make a difference to where you can live?
  • Do you prefer to live alone, with only family members, or in a residential setting?
  • If it becomes necessary, do you want family members to care for you or would you be more comfortable with someone outside the family?

Of course, all of your loved one’s preferences may not be possible in the long run. Much depends on the state of their health and finances. Knowing what they want, however, and planning for different possibilities allows your family to adjust more easily when and if the time comes.