Address These Difficult Aging Topics Early
If you are lucky enough to have aging parents who are in good health and sound mind, you need to set aside time now to have the uncomfortable discussions about how they would like their future care to be handled. Becoming a caregiver is challenging. It is even more difficult when you have to jump in and make up the rules as you go, particularly if you are stepping in due to illness.
Having the important caregiving discussions early will help both you and your aging parent establish guidelines of how things should be handled if they become incapable of making decisions. In fact, you should probably have those discussions with a spouse, sibling or close friend for yourself. We never know what the future holds so planning ahead makes handling a crisis easier.
I recently met a mom from my son’s school who is in her early 40s. Last year she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. I was blown away. I have a friend who is in remission for breast cancer and a neighbor who was younger than I am who died of Lymphoma. Unfortunately, illness doesn’t care how old or young we are. We all need to plan for the possibility of illness.
Uncomfortable Topics to Discuss with Aging Parents
Ideally, you want to ask all of these questions at once so that if your parents don’t have any of the documents, you can set an appointment with a family lawyer to take care of everything at once.
Are There Areas in Your Life Where You Need Help?
You should ask your aging parent this question frequently. Circumstances change. While they may not need assistance with anything today, that could change quickly tomorrow. If you are at a loss for what types of questions to ask, here are some suggestions:
- Are you having trouble safely getting around the house?
- Have you fallen or lost your balance recently?
- Are you eating well? Do you need help getting healthy food?
- Are you still comfortable driving?
- Do you need me to bring you anything?
- Is everything working properly?
You would be surprised by how many of my clients quietly struggled with the above issues because they didn’t want to bother their children or alert their children to their inability to live independently. In addition to asking these questions, you should be checking for signs of their abilities. Some signs include:
- Frequent falls or bruising
- Weight loss or trouble sleeping
- An empty refrigerator or pantry or no “fresh” foods
- They are not grooming in the same way or as frequently
- Their mail or paperwork is piling up
- They are forgetting appointments or important dates
- They keep phone calls or visits short (so that you don’t notice any issues)
Do You Have an Advanced Medical Directive?
An advanced medical directive is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decision for themselves because of illness or incapacity.
If they do, discuss what is on their advanced medical directive so that if an issue suddenly arises, you won’t have to waste time hunting for the documentation. If they don’t set up an appointment with a family law practitioner.
Do You Have a Healthcare Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney?
A healthcare proxy is a document with which a patient appoints an agent to legally make healthcare decisions on behalf of the patient, when he or she is incapable of making and executing decisions stipulated in the proxy.
Does Your Doctor Have Signed Consent Forms For Who Can Speak to Him/Her?
If you or a sibling want the opportunity to speak to your parent’s medical provider outside of attending their appointment, you need to be sure their doctor has a signed consent for that enables you to do so. Medical offices may have their own forms or they may be less formal and just need your parent to call and clear you. Check with your parent and their medical provider.
Do You Have a Financial Power of Attorney?
A Financial Power of Attorney authorizes someone to act on your behalf in financial matters. This is a difficult topic to bring up as your aging parent may be concerned that he or she will lose control of their finances. You also need to be cautious about who is given this role as there is a risk that in the wrong hands, their money can be mismanaged or worse.
On the other hand, if your aging parent is struggling to stay on top of his or her bills or has reduced cognitive function that makes it impossible to make financial decisions, it is critical that someone steps in to help with finances. Of note, it is important that your aging parent make this decision while he or she has the cognitive ability to do so, which is why you want to have the discussion early.
At What Point Is Aging in Place No Longer Feasible for You?
Everyone wants to age in place. There are very few people who want to leave their family home to move into a communal living environment. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible for everyone to age in place.
Take the time to discuss with your aging parent at what point – if there is a point – they would consider assisted living. If they are completely against moving into assisted living, what are their preferences and is it in their financial control. Would your aging parent prefer moving in with family? Is that even an option? Would their preference be round-the-clock caregiving services?
There may become a point where it truly isn’t an option to age in place. They may not be ambulatory. They may be ill. They may need round the clock care which is out of the budget. If they do need to move into a facility, what type of environment is most preferable?
None of these conversations are pleasant, yet they are all important to ensuring your parent’s end of life care is what he or she would want. Jumping into caregiving as a result of illness or an injury is stressful.
If at all possible, you want to have caregiving discussions with your aging parents early and often. You never know when circumstances will change and you don’t want to have conflict with your aging parent over his or her care, or with a sibling or family member.