Tips for discussing eldercare with aging parents

By Valerie
March 30, 2012


My Mom’s birthday is coming up next month and I’ve realized she’s a year shy of turning 70 years old.

It actually alarmed me for the very reason I cause alarm to my friends and clients when I spout off, “If your parents are 70 and over, you need to start talking about future care options.”

For good measure, I usually add a true story about a family thrown into crisis when a parent had a stroke and how much stress it caused.

It won’t surprise you then when I tell you what I did next. Yup, you guessed it.

I call my Mom on the phone and tell her my about shocking revelation about how old she is getting, which of course is met by an eerie silence on the other end of line.

I began to back peddle to no avail and my Mom says, “Was there any other reason you were calling or was it to simply let me know how old I’m getting?”

At which point, I break into a fit of giggles followed by my Mom’s laughter.

Figuring out how to talk to our aging loved ones about life changes and transitions is a common challenge for families. At times, communication can also be touchy and our aging loved one may not welcome the idea of help or suggestions.

There is one thing most experts agree on — imposing your way of thinking will yield undesirable results.

In not so diplomatic terms, you’ll tick off your loved ones and they’ll either stop talking to you altogether or dig their heels in further. If they do comply with your wishes it may cause bitterness, resentment or complete dependence on you and other family members.

The first step to openly discuss touchy subjects is to learn about your aging loved one’s feelings related to aging, as well as their wishes and desires, as they move forward.

Here are a few ideas or statements to get you started:

Remember, just because you haven’t reached an agreement at the end of Round One doesn’t mean the conversation wasn’t productive.

Each time you broach a topic, you are allowing everyone to clarify their wishes, needs and concerns. Your aging loved one hears your concerns and it opens the door for future conversations when something changes down the road.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC