Parent conversations, discussions, and aging.
I feel like it’s a subject everybody understands is worth talking about, but refrains from doing so because it can dampen moods and because of that:
Conversation of aging gets put off by a lot of people. Namely teenagers.
Far from any thoughts of retirement and preparing their 41K’s, teenagers are the last group who bother thinking about their future senior lives.
Growing old is a subject rarely touched in teenage conversation. However that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked amongst them at all:
If nothing else, if teenagers aren’t concerned with their future as seniors, which they still should at some point, they should definitely be worried for their parents.
There is a lot to consider for parents as they age. Things like future housing, finances, and healthcare.
Perhaps it’s just the fact that “aging” hasn’t quite hit young people yet, but these concerns are vital to how their parents will proceed in living as they grow older.
I asked Jacquelyn Nguyen and her friends, Marilyn Ortega and Victoria Liu to conduct a discussion revolving around the inevitable process of their parents aging.
Each guest is a seniors at Northwest High School and are scheduled to graduate in June of 2021.
Marilyn and Jacquelyn are going to attend University of Maryland in the fall and Victoria is planning to attend college out of state. But the unique thing about this group of girls is that they all have one parent above the age of sixty and therefore this topic is more prevalent to their current lives.
The discussion includes hypotheticals as well as real concerns that they will face as their parents approach their senior years. Their first topic of discussion being how to tell their parent that it is no longer safe for them to drive anymore.
Their conversation was enlightening as there were several concerns that were revealed as they kept the discussion going:
BEGINNING WITH THE FIRST TOPIC OF DRIVING
While both Victoria and Marilyn agreed that their fathers would eventually give up driving by their own accord, Marilyn believed that her mother in particular would need a firmer hand. Marilyn felt that she would need to step in and tell her concerns directly.
The three girls also held a discussion for future accommodations and homes. In that matter, the girls were more ambiguous and offered a wide variety of plans:
For both Marilyn and Victoria they brought up nursing homes, but in addition to that, Marilyn also included the idea of just hiring and bringing in a separate care-taker for the home. Jacquelyn on the other hand seemed to be keen on taking care of her parents on her own.
It must be noted that the challenges of communicating with an aging parent can be intense and overwhelming.
It can include everything from the parents’ ability to continue driving to the challenges of estate planning, long-term care and even end-of-life plans.
AGING: THE LONG TERM PLAN
According to a Caring.com survey, only 45% of adult children have had a conversation with their aging parents about the future. Additionally only thirty percent have discussed how their parents will pay for care as they age.
The first main issue is where they choose to live in the future:
For many seniors, their first obvious choice is to remain in their home.. Unfortunately, for a lot of seniors, this will most likely not be a realistic option for them.
Potential problems could involve: safety, being too far away from needed services, or just be too expensive and difficult to maintain. Sadly, only 43% of children and aging parents have had some sort of discussion with the potential prospect of moving out of their current home.
Studies show that one in three adults over 75 have enough cognitive impairment to mishandle of important financial issues. This is an especially concerning area as one mistake in their finances could severely cost them.
For example, failing to make mortgage payments or pay property taxes could lose them their home. Another could be that they fail to take their prescribed medications which could lead to huge health risks.
THEN WE HAVE FALLS
Falls are perhaps the biggest risk of all for older adults living on their own. Many common medications can cause dizziness as a side effect, increasing the likelihood of falling.
Things like climbing on a chair to change a light bulb are now potential dangers and areas of concern. It can then trigger a cascade of health consequences from which they may not fully recover from.
All that being said, it’s important to have these conversations sooner rather than later. Early care planning will greatly influence how your parents utilize their resources which range from real estate they have available to money saved from their 41K plans.
CONVERSATIONS & DISCUSSIONS: BEFORE STARTING
According to Ken Robbins, a Caring.com senior medical editor, you first need to realize “that there are fundamentally two different types of parents,”:
Those that you can be straightforward, and then those parents who “tend to be more self-conscious”.
Even if, in the past, your parents were sharing and receptive, this can change due to aging-related issues.
On the other hand, a close-lipped parent may be relieved that you have opened the topic up for discussion first. Although, it can be tricky because you and your parent may have different goals.
Geriatric communication expert David Solie, author of “How to Say It to Seniors”, notes that while adult children want to solve the problem and move on, their parents want foremost to maintain a sense of control and dignity.
The goal is to just have “the talk”. To do that, you need to balance both sides’ needs because the goal is to collaboratively problem-solve together. So before starting the conversation, I recommend doing your homework and gathering facts:
Research nursing homes, assisted living, home assistance, alternative transportation methods, and any other potential areas that you have concerns for.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION
First you need to get a sense of whether your parents are open to the conversation which can be done by simply introducing an unthreatening related topic into your general conversations. Stick to the positive and general. Once the topic has been opened up gauge their reactions:
Do they respond openly? Defensively? Evasively? This will give you important insight into how to proceed.
Whether or not they seem receptive to the topic, in this first talk, you just want to float around the issue, not begin to solve or deeply discuss.
CONVERSATION: GAGE & ADJUST
Once you see that they are receptive to your attempts to open the topic up, plan the full discussion for a different date:
By doing this, it feels more natural and feels less threatening and overbearing. Once the date rolls around, first take the time to enjoy one another’s company and just talk about things you would normally talk about. Then slowly work your way into the difficult subject by layering it against the general chatter and conversation.
Ultimately, the best time to go into a serious conversation is when your parent brings it up first and asks for your help. However don’t be surprised if they don’t and instead look for an opportunity when everyone is relaxed to take the plunge.
In terms of your approach, it can vary.
Some parents will accept and even respond better to a direct approach, vice-versa, there’s also parents who need a more indirect approach so gage your situation and adjust to what you feel is most appropriate for your parent. Monitor your parents and their warning cues during your talk. See whether or not they are anxious, resistant, or responsive to what you are saying.
Ultimately the goal is to encourage more input and to keep the discussion line positive and collaborative. Communication is a two-way street.
An important note is that if you want a parent to consider an assisted living option, an option is to casually drive by the best place you’ve identified through prior research, and suggest dropping in together to have a look. It’s even better if you can somehow make out a reasoning for your visit.
For example; visiting a friend’s parent or stopping to see a “friend” who works there. Make sure it’s a place you’ve already visited and approved so that you can make the experience as positive as you can for your parent.
Even if there’s not much choice, lay out the options and their pros and cons, strategize solutions to the biggest problems, and let your parents draw his or her own conclusion.
Once the conversation is finished, whatever you do, do not coerce your parents into trying to make a decision right away. Give them time to process the conversation.
Be ready to revisit the conversation at any time, if your parent mentions the conversation at all, use this as a wedge to revisit the matter in a supportive way. And be ready to react and approach the conversation with how your parent feels.
If he or she expresses a concern:
Take it as a positive sign that he or she is at least aware of the issue and thinking about it. Go over the facts as well as the solutions again in a nonthreatening way.
If he or she says something negative:
Don’t fall into an argument or try to counter.
Be patient and try to get your parent’s reasoning or points of concern. Is it fear of running out of money? Is it a feeling that admitting help is necessary is also admitting failure of some kind? Look for ways to address and support the concern.
Alternatively, if the issue is not brought up at all again, try to re-gage the situation and see if you can bring it up into conversation. Ultimately though, you need to reassure your parents that you support whatever decision they make.
If your parent can still hold a logical conversation with you but just choose decisions that you disagree with, ones that do not endanger them, all you can do is continue the conversation in a positive way. Any choices are ultimately theirs to make.
You may not like the choice, or you may end up needing to revisit the matter later, but
You can’t make their decisions
What you can do is to remain upbeat and supportive, even if you’re frustrated or worried.
Difficult as that first conversation about a sensitive topic is, it’s only the first of many you’re likely to have as you strategize your way toward a solution that everyone can feel better about.
DISCUSSION EXAMPLE: GETTING YOUR PARENT OFF THE ROAD
Now to use a real-life example: driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control or CDC, five hundred older drivers are injured in accidents every day. The AAA says that senior drivers are second only to teen drivers in having the highest crash death rate per mile driven.
AAA records also show that deaths from auto accidents are 17 times higher for seniors than for adults 25 – 64.
Older adults have more health problems which make them more vulnerable to serious health consequences if a crash does occur. There will come a time when you might need to sit a loved one down for this conversation.
When you first introduce the subject into the conversation, try to avoid coming on too strong, or you’ll set the discussion off on the wrong foot. Even though you may want to rush into the bulk of the conversation, don’t.
If you’ve noticed that your loved one’s driving has grown erratic and sloppy, they’re probably aware of it, too. You can be most helpful by helping them express and work through their own concerns. A good way to do this is to initiate the discussion with a question.
If your parent is responsive, stop, and return to the topic on another date.
Once that new date is reached, approach the original topic with the same layering of conversation as you did previously. Finally, once the topic of discussion is initiated, we move onto the next step:
If you assume that one discussion will neatly resolve the matter, you’re bound to be disappointed. Make sure you plan prior to initiating the discussion. Consider this first serious conversation as a preliminary discussion only; a way to get the issue out on the table so it can be dealt with openly and appropriately.
Whilst conversing, encourage your parent to discuss their concerns without immediately jumping in with solutions. Instead, help them express their fears by using “reflective listening.” This is a technique recommended by Elizabeth Dugan.
The term means rephrasing what the person has said. It conveys support and encouragement and helps the speaker gain insight about their experience.
This type of response will encourage them to keep talking about their worries and reflect upon them, which is an important step in working through major problems and transitions. Be sure to also monitor how your parents react and adjust to what is needed in the situation.
Ultimately, it’s not up to you to convince the person you’re caring for to immediately cease driving. Unless your loved one has dementia, respect whatever decision that they give. If there’s still concern, just reopen the conversation.
A special thanks to our interns for helping produce this show. Their help is invaluable in producing Seniors We Love podcast
Jackie Nguyen is currently a senior at Northwest High School in Montgomery County Maryland. I really appreciate her assistance in editing the content for this episode
Mihir Celley who is a junior at Northwest High School for editing the audio recording of this podcast.
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ABOUT THE HOST
Debbie DeChambeau is a content creator, business and marketing strategist and professional insurance agent.
Over the years, Debbie has cared for several family members. She was instrumental in helping to raise her niece and nephew and cared for her grandmother, uncle and parents.
Her love for podcasting and the insurance industry have her creating content that help seniors with their insurance decisions. Debbie tries to help caregivers understand what to expect in their new role.
Debbie believes in continued education for her profession and earned the designations as a Certified Insurance Counselor and an Accredited Advisor of Insurance.