As your parents get older, it becomes increasingly important to have frank conversations about their health, finances, and future. These conversations can be extremely difficult, especially if your parents are reluctant to talk about such topics. But if you avoid them or procrastinate too long, it could end up working against all your interests.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the most important difficult conversations you should have with your aging parents – and provide tips on how to have them productively.
Difficult Conversations You Should Have With Your Elderly Parents
These are the most consequential conversations you’ll have with your elderly parents:
- Physical and mental health. When your parents’ health begins to decline, are you going to step in as a home caregiver? If they have Medicare or Medicaid, you may even be able to be paid for this service. If they can no longer take care of themselves at home, what options are available to you? Is an assisted living facility the best option? Also, what physical and mental health ailments are the biggest threats to consider? Is there a family history of specific conditions?
- Living arrangements. Where are your parents going to live? Most people want to live in the home they’re familiar with for as long as possible, but this home may or may not be conducive to hosting an elderly person. At a certain point, they may need to downsize or move in with someone else.
- Finances. Your parents may also need help understanding the expenses they’re about to face, including medical expenses, end-of-life expenses, and unexpected expenses. How are they currently managing their assets and what plans are already in place?
- End-of-life arrangements. It’s also important to explore end-of-life arrangements, even if you think your parents have many, many years left to live. What preferences do they have for managing their medical decisions? How do they want to be buried and remembered?
- Reflections on life. Though less pragmatic than some of these other conversations, it’s also valuable to ask your parents to reflect upon their lives. What did they learn? What did they wish they knew earlier? What do they regret? And what would they say to the next generation? This conversation is for your benefit as much as theirs.
How to Have Hard Conversations With Your Loved Ones
These conversations are much easier when you follow these steps:
- Start early. Don’t put these conversations off. The sooner you have them, the better. This is especially important for complex issues that may take many conversations to fully resolve.
- Be patient. These are sensitive conversations, so it’s important for you to remain as patient and understanding as possible. Your parents may not be willing to have these conversations when you want, and they may show signs of frustration, irritability, or resistance when you open the door. Try to understand these feelings and accommodate them.
- Nail the timing. Be conscientious about your timing. If your parents are already struggling with something, or if they’re rushing through an important task, don’t hit them with a heavy topic. Instead, try to bring these conversations up when you have plenty of time and a healthy mindset to work with.
- Do your research in advance. Before you have any of these conversations, do your research. You’ll be much more helpful and much more understanding if you have knowledge on the subject before you bring it up. For example, don’t have a conversation about end-of-life options unless you know what those options are.
- Bring others into the conversation. In many cases, it pays to bring other people into the conversation. If you have other siblings, work with them in advance and go to your parents together so the entire family can engage in the dialogue.
- Show empathy. Demonstrate empathy in your conversations. Though most of these conversations are practical in nature, you need to be able to understand what your parents are feeling and express compassion for them.
- Ask open-ended questions. Let your parents do as much talking as possible; your primary job is to be a listener. To better facilitate this, ask lots of open-ended questions.
- Document the conversation. Make sure you document the conversation as thoroughly as possible, recording it if all parties agree. That way, you won’t forget any details and there will be no doubt that you’re carrying out your parents’ genuine wishes.
These conversations may not be easy, but they’ll be much more approachable and productive if you follow these steps. Also, you may not be able to cover all this ground in one session, so prepare for multiple meetings, potentially over the course of years, to resolve all the challenges in front of you.