Aging Parents: Asking the Hard Questions Before You Need the Answers

We all know that aging is inevitable, yet it can be so difficult to realize our parents are approaching their later years. After starting to see friends deal with the grief of losing a parent or transforming their role from child to caregiver, you may quickly realize how important it is to have the tough conversations. When you take time to discuss future care and decision making with your parents or grandparents while they are still young enough to take part in the conversation, it gives everyone a sense of peace.

Let’s talk about what you need to know to get started. 

How to Open the Conversation with Your Loved One

The last thing any of us wants is to approach our parents in a way that they feel ambushed on such a sensitive topic. Aging is not an easy topic for many adults and when it comes to end-of-life decisions or elder care, there are a lot of different emotions there. Find a way to ease into these conversations by finding opportunities that feel a little more natural. 

For example, should one of you have a friend experience a loss or you see a movie together that shows one, it may give you a chance to say something like, “I was thinking about what happened and I realize we’ve never had a conversation about that.” If you are making your own arrangements for your life and medical care for your children, you could start the conversation by sharing some of the steps you are taking. This may open up the discussion to ask them about their own decisions and find out what has or has not been decided yet, so you can talk about it together. 

The Types of Questions You Can Start Asking Now

It’s okay to feel a little awkward as you approach these topics, but know that ultimately you are empowering both your parents and yourself in the process. Having the answers to these questions before you may need them can make all the difference.  

What are Your Medical Care, Long Term Living and End-of-Life Wishes?

One of the biggest wishes aging parents have is to keep their independence. Discuss what their wants are when it comes to living arrangements to allow them to share their input. Before a new long-term living situation is needed you can review options, visit possibilities, and talk about what kinds of things would prompt that change of living for them. This can help prepare both of you well in advance. Medical care and decisions can feel heavy to share but try to talk openly about the choices that are important to them, such as if a ventilator or feeding tube would ever be needed, CPR, if a terminally ill diagnosis were given, and more. It can also be helpful to discuss End-of-life wishes like burial or cremation and memorial/funeral service options.  

Who Do You Want in Charge of Decisions if You can’t Make them Yourself? 

The fact is, there may come a time when our parents are unable to make decisions for themselves, so it’s important to know who they’ve designated in the event they need support. Ask if a durable power of attorney has been chosen, and discuss the options if it hasn’t yet. Senior citizens may have one person selected to handle health decisions and another appointed over financial decisions, or choose the same person for both. 

Do You Currently have Important and Legal Documents Completed? 

When it comes to preparing for this season of life, many people continue to put off the important things like paperwork, but it’s the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your wishes. Ask your parents what they have completed so far or still need to do, and offer to help them where you can. Here are a few examples of the kinds of documentation to consider completing or having ready as your parents reach their later years; power of attorney, living will, health care directive, medical records insurance policy paperwork, vehicle titles, property deeds, pension and 401k documents, etc. 

Where Can I Find Important Documents if I Ever Need them?

Having a will, insurance information, power of attorney forms and more are all wonderful in preparation, but they won’t do you any good if you can’t find them when you need them. Make sure you and any other siblings who are involved know where these documents will be kept and if there is any kind of security measure like a safe or password that you have the information needed to access it. If a lawyer is involved, ask for and save their contact information. The answer to this question is crucial, but remember, it can also change over time, so make sure to re-ask every few years in the event the location changes.

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