Talking with an aging parent about their life transition and care planning. 7 Tips for Planning the Senior Journey.
When parents don’t realize they need help or won’t admit they need help it can be a real struggle. Some aging seniors see the signs that point to trouble and respond gratefully to offers of assistance and help planning for the security of their health and well-being. Others may just not see the signs or may be so far along in the path of dementia or other disability that they can’t recognize it for what it is. Worse still, are the seniors who stubbornly won’t admit there is a problem despite being fully aware they are endangering themselves (and possibly others). As a family member of an aging senior, any of these situations can be daunting to deal with. Guidance and support are available.
In addition to helping families navigate the best care placement options, CarePatrol is a source of support and a wealth of information. Outlined here are tactics that will make navigating the next steps easier. Best practices on how to approach an aging loved one, and have a conversation about this major life transition, include empathy, respect, honesty, and open-mindedness. Here are some of the most effective, guiding principles.
- Start early! Don’t wait until your loved one has full-blown dementia or a debilitating disease to start discussing their preferences. Ideally, a living will, identified power of attorney, and advance directives were each thought through and developed by the senior involved and can be made readily available to assist in the planning and discussion of what comes next. Simply asking your parent(s) if they have these items identified and where you might access them in case it is ever needed lets them know you are thinking about their well-being. You can express your desire to honor their wishes in such matters. This is a good place to start, and involving your loved one in the planning process if these matters are not already identified gives them a sense of control that will help ease them through this process. Explain that by planning now, they have more options available to them and the family won’t be making rushed decisions should a crisis occur. Break the ice with a recent news article or a relatable story of someone they know and ask their opinion about it.
- Involve others in the discussion. The senior(s) themselves, siblings, best friends, spouses, and anyone who may be able to provide a personal account of the individual’s current state, wishes, or limitations. Gather your outsider information first, then bring any concerns or suggestions to the senior and family for discussion.
- Do your research. The Elder Care Ready Book is a valuable planning tool and we cover it in our blog. https://www.carepatrol.com/advisors/baltimore-md/blog/Planning-The-Elder-Care-Journey_AE245.html?view=2GR22 . The National Institute on Aging at NIH hosts many resources for caregivers: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/caregiving
- Honor and respect your senior(s). A lifetime provides a depth of experience that can’t be dismissed. At the heart of it, your senior is a human being who has done interesting things, worked to provide for their family, lived a life full of hobbies and preferences, and may have strong feelings about the next phase of life. Reassure them that you support their input and are there to help them even when you may not agree on the path forward. Respect their wishes as much as possible. Really listen to what they are saying and ask them questions about their wishes, their memories, and their lives.
- Agree to disagree. There will be items that you just can’t agree on. Establish some ground rules on the decision-making process. Bring in an impartial party to help if needed. A social worker, church member, clergy, lawyer or mediator may all offer impartial guidance.
- Be ready to pivot. The best-laid plans, as they say, go out the window if a new diagnosis or financial situation comes into play. Be ready to switch gears and look at alternative care, upgrades, or downgrades to living arrangements, and pull in additional support if needed.
- Plan on self-care for the caregivers. Burnout is real. It’s impossible to provide the best care if the one giving the care is feeling overwhelmed, unappreciated, or totally burned out. Incorporate elements of respite care, rotating care amongst helpers, or a set schedule that family members agree upon ahead of time to ensure the primary care provider is getting enough breaks and time for self-care to preserve their energy and health.
The aging process hosts a variety of potential pitfalls if not planned for properly, but it is also a time that brings families together. When approached with dignity and respect, the bonds formed can be beautiful, rewarding, and the ultimate gift.
- National Institute on Aging, NIH, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/caregiving
- CarePatrol Blog: Caring For Seniors topics: https://www.carepatrol.com/advisors/baltimore-md//blog/category/Caring-for-Seniors.html
- The Elder Care Ready Book: www.eldercareready.com