Written by Wendy Johnstone, Provincial Program Consultant and Gerontologist with Family Caregivers of BC and originally published in Inspired 55+ Lifestyle Magazine.
Mr. Jones is an 83-year-old widower living in his own home. When asked, he’ll say he is doing “fair to middling.” He’ll go on to tell you his legs are tired and wobbly, and he doesn’t get out as much as he used to.
He has a scooter, which gets him to town and back, but his vision is getting worse and he’s not sure how much longer he can safely use it. He likes audio books and watching sports. His children live out of town, and they all worry about him. Mr. Jones has Lifeline, a housekeeper every two weeks, regular meal delivery, and relies on friends to help with grocery shopping and other tasks.
Mr. Jones knows he needs more help to stay in his home. He’s concerned about his future care needs but doesn’t know where to find information or what’s available in his community. His children want to support him but feel awkward about initiating a conversation about planning for the future.
Maybe one of your parents is like Mr. Jones. Or perhaps you feel a little (or a lot!) like Mr. Jones yourself. Either way, there comes a time when an aging relative requires more support and care to keep them as independent as possible. For some of us, caregiving becomes a part-time job and a full-time worry.
When it comes to dealing with eldercare and life transitions, at least one third of adult children experience communication obstacles with their parents. Often parents are still operating on the parent-child model rather than a peer-to-peer model, making open conversations tricky. Other times established communication patterns and history get in the way, and discussions don’t always go smoothly.
One of the best times to speak candidly to your parent is when a natural opportunity arises. If one of their close friends is sick or dying, has acquired a mobility aid or must relinquish their driver’s licence, a conversation about your aging relative’s own plans would be timely.
The first conversation is always the hardest. If you can initiate the discussion while your aging relative is still healthy and active, it’s easier still. Doing it before a crisis avoids having to make decisions on the fly. Emergencies rarely allow the opportunity to review all the options and discuss needs and preferences.
Don’t know what to think about or ask? Try these as starting places:
- Are financial, legal and care preparations in place if faced with an unexpected change in health or mental capacity?
- Will children or other supporters need to be involved if more care is required?
- At what point would they consider asking for or accepting help?
- Is private care (to help with household tasks, personal care, home maintenance) an option?
- Has anyone researched costs of different housing and care options?
- If faced with an immediate crisis, how would bills be paid? Who would make sure accounts have adequate funds?
- What kind of living arrangements are preferred?
- Is there a solid understanding of how the healthcare system works in providing care and support to seniors?
- Who is willing and able to step up in the family caregiver role?
Speaking openly and honestly to an aging parent or spouse about future care needs and options can be awkward. However, initiating a conversation prior to a health-care crisis shows respect for their choices and what’s important to them for ongoing independence.
And there’s no time like the present to get talking!