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Care Conversations – When and How to Have Them

By Anthony Cirillo May 16, 2022 Caregiving

Having care conversations about preparing for aging with mom or dad can be challenging. Heck, having them with a spouse is not a breeze either. Topics like finances, insurance, wills, estate planning, living situations, care and treatment plans are tough. Yet, the sooner you have them, the better.

The Best Time Is…

A crisis is the exact wrong time to solve a situation. You react emotionally. You make wrong decisions and unscrupulous people take advantage of the situation. You see this, for example, if someone dies suddenly and advance funeral arrangements have not been made. People can be easily talked into buying things they do not need and may not be able to afford.

I call all of this Educated Aging, the notion that preparing for your older years physically, financially and mentally starts when you are younger – and, yes, even young. Someone in their 20s can learn saving habits that will benefit them when they are older.

You need to know your loved ones’ wishes now and realize due to circumstances their wishes could change. That is why this is an ongoing dialogue and not a one and done conversation.

There may be natural openings that occur to initiate these conversations. For example, during bad weather, you might talk about future housing situations. “Mom, what would you do if a flood, hurricane, etc. hit and you were here alone?”

Or maybe her friend’s husband died. You can ask about the circumstances. Maybe they had a will. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they had insurance. Maybe not. Look for natural openings.

Where to Start

Start by observing their living situation. If you are close-by, that is easier than if you are a long-distance caregiver. In that case, you may have to enlist friends, neighbors and trusted people, perhaps a nearby responsible sibling.

Start where it makes the most sense. If mom and dad are in good health but their finances are a mess, start there. Do they have a financial plan? Do they have life and long-term care insurance?

If it’s not the finances, then maybe it’s their housing. Maybe mom or dad has fallen because the house is not organized for aging in place. Can they live in the house safely with modifications? Maybe an aging in place specialist can determine this with you.

Does it need to be de-cluttered? Or is it time to consider alternate living arrangements. Maybe a professional move manager could be of assistance.

Then there is health. Are you noticing changes? Has their eyesight deteriorated and impacted their driving? You can observe these things directly or ask their friends and neighbors.

When, Where, What About How You Have a Conversation

The key here is that it is a conversation. It is not you as the son or daughter imposing your will. So, there is less “I” and more “We.” If you get them to somewhat agree that advanced preparation is needed, let them express their wishes. By listening and reflecting, your own opinion of the situation and the solution may be altered.

Remember, you are on the same page with the same goal of wanting mom or dad to live a quality of life as independently as possible. Do not become the parent.

What Comes Next?

Research support and care options for them before you engage in the discussion. This way you have solutions. It could be alternate driving options. Having a meal delivery service. Bringing in a home health aide. Have realistic alternatives ready.

Oh, What About My Siblings?

Many times, caregivers are alone in this. But if there are siblings, how do you get them involved?

Be direct with requests for help. Many primary caregivers mistakenly assume that implied requests or subtle hints regarding assistance should be sufficient for siblings to realize that they should step up. It can be very difficult for someone on the “outside” who has never cared for an elder before to understand and anticipate a caregiver’s or senior’s needs.

Sit down and create a list of realistic tasks or objectives that your sibling can help with. Divvy up responsibilities according to each person’s strengths.

Know where you are starting. Siblings may be wondering how to protect the money of elderly parents from a financially dependent brother or sister. Relationship tensions may escalate if an adult child living with parents becomes overbearing or controlling. These are real issues.

An outside opinion can often help resolve this issue. Arrange for a geriatric care manager or consider a mediator. A respected adviser such as a faith or community leader or friend could help.

Have the conversation early. Look for openings. Make it a dialogue. Have solutions.

Has it been easy or difficult for you to speak with your parents regarding their future? Have you had the discussion with your siblings about care for your parents? What tips do you have for others in the same situation?

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The Author

Anthony Cirillo is founder of Sage Stream, the Senior Entertainment/Education Network and president of The Aging Experience, which helps people and companies prepare for aging before it becomes a crisis. A health and aging expert, professional speaker, and media influencer, he is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Anthony serves as a Policy RoundTable member for Nationwide Financial and Bank of America.

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