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Talking to Aging Parents about their Health and the Future

At some point in our adult lives, as our parent(s) age, a shift in dynamics occurs.  The adult child becomes the caregiver and the aging parent relies more upon the adult child for their care and for assistance with key decision making such as with financial and future planning. This role reversal can be difficult for both the adult child and their parents. The adult child often experiences a sense of loss and grief as the Mom or Dad they once relied upon for their safety, well-being and guidance now needs to be cared for and guided by the child and the parent no longer fulfills the traditional “parent” role.   The aging parent, on the other hand, often experiences a sense of losing control, a loss of purpose and a feeling of frustration as they begin to depend on their children for their care needs. This inevitable role reversal is often an uncomfortable subject that many times is not addressed in families openly and honestly.

In my own situation with my 82-year old Mother, I work hard to be her partner in care and not her parent. I am her daughter and that is the role I cherish. She is my parent and that is the role that she cherishes. During our journey together with Mom’s Parkinson’s Disease, we have had to engage in many difficult and serious conversations. The first of these dealt with the fact that she could no longer drive. The second of these dealt with the fact that she needed a caregiver in the home to assist her while I was at work, on business travel or busy taking her grandkids to school, sporting and social events. Even in close families who share freely and have open and healthy communication, it can be hard to know how to broach the topic of an aging parent’s health. If there is family dysfunction (and most of the time there is in some form) these discussions become even more challenging.

Timing is everything. The earlier family members begin to discuss a senior’s care preferences, the easier it will be to carry out their desires in the future. When you have these conversations, make sure to have all key family members present and to carve out enough time to have a meaningful dialogue.  The tips below may assist you with starting this important dialogue. Remember that these topics are emotionally-charged and difficult – and that’s okay. If the dialogue stems from a place of love and trust, then the tough stuff will be easier to handle for everyone.

Cover All Aspects of Care – Minor and Major

When talking to your parents about their health, it is important to go deeper than just a simple understanding of their current medical conditions and treatment plans. Ask broad questions about how they prefer to live if they lose their mobility or ability to carry out basic tasks such as bathing. Find out if they have appointed a financial guardian or power of attorney who can make decisions regarding their health. If a parent does not know how they prefer to manage their care, then be ready to offer suggestions such as home care in Annapolisor to seek professional advice. I know, for example, based on conversations with my Mom, that she gets her hair done once a week and has never left the house without lipstick. I know that if she is unable to communicate at some point or is bed-ridden, she will want her hair done and her makeup applied. She is an elegant lady and this is important to her. But I also know my Mom’s wishes for life-support and her views on “extreme measures” if her health is failing. I know that she is a devout Irish Catholic woman and would want the advice of our parish priest in that situation. This is not a fun or happy conversation to have with your parent but it is critical so that both of us are on the same page and there are no surprises or regrets.

Write Important Information Down

When a health crisis strikes, stress can make it hard to remember important information. Take the time to write down things you may need to know later such as health or long-term care insurance policy information, the contact information of the primary care physician and other specialists and the names and dosages of all medications that your parents take on a regular basis. This way, you can refer to your notes if you find yourself lost while managing your parent’s care. I use a journal where I log all of my Mom’s major medical appointments, changes to medications and topics discussed with the neurologist. And her medication list is posted on the fridge with my contact info and her doctors’ contact info. I made and posted this list after a call to 911 and an ambulance ride (ugh) when I was not able to provide paramedics with critical information. It was a “NEVER AGAIN” moment for me.

Revisit the Topic of Your Parent’s Health Periodically

As Mom or Dad’s health and abilities change, they may also prefer to revise their plans for the future. Therefore, discussions about health care should remain open and ongoing. Periodically, ask if they have any new concerns or a recent health diagnosis that may require new types of assistance such as medication management. If your aging parent or loved one has recently received a diagnosis that makes living at home challenging, read about live-in care in Annapolis, a comprehensive alternative to assisted living that provides 24 hour care to seniors, while allowing them to remain in the comfort of home. In my Mom’s case, she was adamantly opposed to in-home care. She has always been quiet and introverted and the thought of having a stranger in her home drove her nuts. But when the choice became to age at home comfortably in familiar surroundings or to move to an assisted living facility, in-home care was the way to go for her.

To find out if home care is the right option for your aging loved one, please don’t hesitate to contact Home Care Assistance of Annapolis at 443-302-2771. Our Care Managers are on-call 24/7. We are here as a resource to answer any questions about home care and can help you determine the best way to help your loved one as they age. Remember that you are not alone!