HAVE THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS
It’s difficult, and often heartbreaking, to approach your own parents about changes in their mental and physical abilities. Asking them for access to their e-mail or voicemail passwords to help protect them from online or telephone scams, for example, can be perceived as an affront to their independence. It may be even harder to discuss planning for end-of-life medical care or burial wishes.
But have these conversations early, before critical situations emerge.
Shovali says a document called the Five Wishes Living Will (available at www.agingwithdignity.org ) can help start the conversation about end-of-life planning. It’s written in clear language, “not in legal speak or doctor speak,” she says.
As for discussing whether parents should stop driving, need help managing finances or should consider moving into assisted living, Goyer says it’s valuable to “make very specific observations.”
For example, take a ride with them in their car. “You can say afterward, ‘I really noticed you seemed to be having trouble making left turns,’ or ‘I noticed a lot of dings on the right side of the car,’” she says. That can lead to a conversation about whether driving is still safe.
Driving is an especially sensitive subject, Shovali and Matcha say. If elderly parents live in a suburb, giving up driving can mean loss of independence and access to many things. So find a transportation service, friend or hired caregiver to drive to medical appointments, shopping trips and social outings.
In general, Goyer says, approach difficult subjects with an “I’m here to support you. I’m not here to take over your life’” attitude.
Give thought to which relatives and friends should be involved in the tough conversations. “You may be doing most of the caregiving,” Goyer says, “but your brother might be the one your parents listen to.”