Thanks to healthier lifestyles and advances in modern medicine, there are more Americans over the age of 65 than there have ever been.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2030, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents will be aged 65 and over, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 1970. As our nation ages, many Americans are turning their attention to caring for aging parents.
For many people, one of the most difficult conversations to have involves talking with an aging parent about extended medical care. The shifting of roles can be challenging, and emotions often prevent important information from being exchanged and critical decisions from being made.
When talking to a parent about future care, it’s best to have a strategy for structuring the conversation. Here are some key concepts to consider.
Cover the basics
Knowing ahead of time what information you need to find out may help keep the conversation on track. Here is a checklist that can be a good starting point:
- Primary physician
- Medications and supplements
- Allergies to medication
It is also important to know the location of medical and estate management paperwork, including:
- Medicare card
- Insurance information
- Durable power of attorney for healthcare
- Will, living will, trusts and other documents
Remember that if you can collect all the critical information, you may be able to save your family time and avoid future emotional discussions. While checklists and scripts may help prepare you, remember that this conversation could signal a major change in your parent’s life. The transitionfrom provider to dependent can be difficult for any parent and has the potential to unearth old issues. Be prepared for emotions and the unexpected. Be kind, but do your best to get all the information you need.
Keep the lines of communication open
This conversation is probably not the only one you will have with your parent about their future healthcare needs. It may be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue. Consider involving other siblings in the discussions. Often one sibling takes a lead role when caring for parents, but all family members should be honest about their feelings, situations, and needs.
The earlier you can begin to communicate about important issues, the more likely you will be to have all the information you need when a crisis arises. How will you know when a parent needs your help? Look for indicators like fluctuations in weight, failure to take medication, new health concerns, and diminished social interaction. These can all be warning signs that additional care may soon become necessary. Don’t avoid the topic of care just because you are uncomfortable. Chances are that waiting will only make you more so.
Remember, whatever your relationship with your parent has been, this new phase of life will present challenges for both parties. By treating your parent with love and respect—and taking the necessary steps toward open communication—you will be able to provide the help needed during this new phase of life.
1. U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 2. Note: Power of attorney laws can vary from state to state. An estate strategy that includes trusts may involve a complex web of tax rules and regulations. Consider working with a knowledgeable estate management professional before implementing such strategies.