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Caring for Aging Parents Takes Compassion, Communication & Partnership

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Nicolas Camargo
May 1, 2020

Helping Mom Out of the CarAs the Silent Generation and older Baby Boomers age, more and more adult children are finding themselves moving into the role of caregiver and adviser. This shift can be difficult for both seniors and their children.

Sometimes aging parents are not emotionally ready to have their children help – and are having a hard time realizing they need help. The thought of growing old is scary for many.

Sometimes adult children, members of the “Sandwich Generation” who are balancing their own families, careers, and futures, aren’t sure how to best support their parents while maintaining their own lives. The thought of balancing both is overwhelming.

“In order to successfully plan for aging parents, it’s very important that adult children take the time to understand how their parents feel,’’ said Nicolas Camargo. “As aging parents grow older, the thought of giving up their independence can be frightening. For adult children, it can be just as daunting to see their parents unable to care for themselves. Suddenly, they all are forced to prepare for end-of-life planning while also trying to balance the day-to-day and preserving their relationship.’’

Often, elderly parents delay making plans as a way to avoid aging. However, as they become unable to support themselves medically or financially, the responsibility falls on adult children who may be unsure of how to best help their parents.

The key is for families to work together on advance planning to ensure elderly family members are well taken care of and safe for their final stage of life.

Support comes first through having honest conversations where both elderly parents and adult children feel comfortable sharing their goals for the future. Choose a time when you can meet in a private and relaxed environment where your parents won’t feel attacked or like they are being told what to do. If possible, adult children should research before talking with their parents. Be ready with specific and valid options on medical, legal and financial steps to begin to review. Check out options for local care, financial advisers who specialize in helping aging adults and legal counsel who can help with end-of-life decisions.

Adult children must remember to listen to their parents, just as their parents must also be open-minded about how the entire family is impacted. Keep notes. Writing down everyone’s wishes will make future conversations easier and help to stay focused.

“You know your parents best,’’ said Camargo. “And they know you best. When you talk through options, make sure everyone is part of the conversation whenever possible. These talks can be difficult but will help your family create concrete plans and allow for everyone to better understand each other while focusing on agreed-upon goals.’’

Families will find that professional support will make it easier to navigate the process. Consider hiring an elder law attorney to help you put together key documents, such as a will and power of attorney. Balancing your own family and career and finalizing plans for your parents’ future is a lot to manage on your own.

“Adult children must be compassionate and address their parents’ concerns,’’ Camargo said. “For children, these conversations are helpful for planning but for parents, it may signal the end of life, which is scary. Elderly parents need to realize their children want the best for them, which is why having these talks and bringing in expert opinions early benefits everyone. These discussions can be tough, but they make all the difference.’’

In This Issue

  • Conversation Crossroads: Helping Families Have Difficult Conversations
  • As you plan for the future, the goal is to create an environment for everyone to feel comfortable having sensitive and important discussions. Here are some key tips to help adult children and their parents navigate these difficult conversations.
  • Don’t wait to start talking.
  • The best time to start planning for the future is now – before there’s an emergency. Discussing difficult topics during stressful times will just complicate the conversation.
  • Adult children: No matter how difficult, or how much your parents want to avoid talking, take the time to talk to them now about their wishes.
  • Seniors: Remember, your child loves you and wants to best help you as you look to your next stage of life. This is not for you to feel threatened or pressured, but for you all to begin to think about what lies ahead.
  • Give grace.
  • Talking about caregiving options, personal finance, and medical preferences can be overwhelming. Entering the final stage of life can be emotionally charged for both parents and their children, so remember to be open-minded and patient.
  • Adult children: It’s important that you consider your parents’ point of view. No one wants to think about end-of-life and even though your parents know they need a plan, it can be difficult to discuss.
  • Seniors: You have spent the majority of your life taking care of your kids. Now is the time to allow them to help you. When your adult children offer advice and ideas, they are trying to be supportive – not overbearing.
  • Start small.
  • There are many things to consider when planning for a seniors’ future. Start small and tackle one item at a time so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
  • Adult children: Sometimes your aging parents may try to postpone conversations about their future as a way to avoid it altogether. Reassure them and remind them how much you love them and want to help. If your loved one is facing immediate risk, you will have to be more persistent and press a little harder, but you can still tackle each topic one at a time.
  • Seniors: Your child is not trying to nag you or boss you around; instead they just want to be thorough and make sure you completely understand your options. The important thing is for you to make decisions so that later, should something happen, they aren’t decided without your input.
  • Listen to all sides.
  • As you sit down to have these tough talks, it’s important that no one is dictating information and everyone is allowed (and encouraged) to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Adult children: Your parents have devoted their lives to taking care of you. So, they may be angry or scared about growing older and realizing your roles have flipped. It’s important they feel heard and are a part of the decision-making.
  • Seniors: Your child knows you have ideas on your finances and medical care and they truly want to know what you think. They have also been working to gather as much information as they can to help you as you finalize your plans. So, it’s important you don’t let your emotions cloud what they are saying to you.
  • Remember, you are family.
  • At the end of the day, you are in this together and working to find the best answers because you love each other. Working together as a team will help you successfully navigate this next stage in life.

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