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How To Take Care Of Aging Parents

A recent survey found that two out of three adult children have never talked to their aging parents about the difficult and sensitive topic of what they want and how their needs and security can be best met as they approach the end of their lives. It found that people lurch from crisis to crisis, not planning but responding in ways that are neither helpful nor satisfying to parent or child. What's to be done?

Our guest Virginia Morris, author of the book <em> How To Take Care For Aging Parents </em>, tells us the best ways to raise difficult topics such as finance, health care, legal issues, housing, medical care and more in ways that could serve the aging parent, relieve the worried child and even help to create a closer emotional bond between the two.

When we talk about end of life issues, we're talking about a topic neither parent nor child wants to approach. We're looking at death and loss, when what both parties really want is for things to stay as they have always been: the child wants the parent and vice versa.

Sometimes children overcompensate and think that what's required as their parents grow older and weaker is role reversal. They will become the parent, and the parent becomes the child. In truth, nothing could be worse. Older people are not children. Unless they're completely incapacitated mentally, they know what they want and what they need and they very much need to have their dignity left intact. The mission for the child then becomes:

  1. Raise the issues, the earlier the better. If you do it while your parents are still relatively healthy and independent, it becomes less emotionally charged.

  2. Come to the discussion prepared with research and background, whether the topic is nursing homes, wills, living wills, etc.

  3. Don't expect to solve all the issues in one fell swoop

  4. Show patience: you may need to bring issues up more than once

  5. Most important: listen! We really don't know what's best for someone else. Your parents’ real fears may not be what you think at all. Listening creates an environment where they can trust you.

Several suggestions for language to open a discussion: "Mom, when aunt Mary became ill last year you said you really would hate to be in all that pain the way she was. I want to make sure I know how you feel about that. Can we talk about it?"

"Dad, Fred and I are putting our wills together. And it occurred to me that I've never asked you if you and mom have a will. Do you want to tell me anything about that, who your lawyer is, do you have a living will? I just want to make sure I take care of things the way you'd want me to, if something happens."

What your parents need:

  • Up to date will
  • Durable power of attorney
  • Advanced directives about end-of-life issues

Topics to be discussed with parent:

  • Finances
  • Legal issues, including papers, attorney....
  • Housing
  • Medical care, including long-term cre insurance
  • General organization: where to locate papers, old tax returns, address books, doctors and lawyers phone numbers.

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