Oh, aging. We keep talking about it.
It’s hard not to talk about aging, as a growing number of the baby boomer generation hit retirement age and begin to test the limits of our healthcare, medicare, and social security systems. So how do you talk to your aging parents about help as they get older?
It’s not an easy conversation. You spend twenty years (sometimes more) being supported by your parents. Anything from having your diapers changed and being spoon fed to their sage advice and financial support.
While the age at which it happens can vary greatly, those cared-for and caretaker roles can shift suddenly or slowly over time. When we’re kids growing up, we see ourselves maturing and we long for the freedom of adulthood and the myriad of opportunities freedom-of-choice can give us. As we age, it’s a drastically-different situation. We know what freedom and independence felt like and we’re forced to come to terms with the fact that we just don’t have those same levels of ability we used to. Losing control of your living situation, your mobility, and your outright independence is possibly one of the most excruciating experiences of our lives.
The guidance out there for these types of situations is vast, but they all hone in on a couple of specific, actionable items:
1. Look for signs of changing capabilities and awareness.
It’s hard to make an unemotional observation of living conditions, but there are signs which can help you. If you’re getting vibes that someone is no longer safe in their own care, don’t look past those signs. They could be anything from:
- Increased bruising and likelihood of falling
- A decrease in personal hygiene, whether bathing, shaving, cleaning clothes, or hair care
- Poor management of nutrition and keeping the fridge stocked with unspoiled foods, often resulting in unhealthy weight loss
- Unacknowledged scratches or dents in a car which could indicate slowing reaction times or vision impairment
2. Have a level-setting conversation with them
If you’re becoming aware that your parent or parents need more assistance than they’re able to provide for themselves, the only way to help them is to start by having a conversation about it.
When you can come together and make some key agreements on key goals around their quality of life, it’ll be easier to agree on a path forward with them. It could be physical, it could be mental, or it could be financial, but you need to find a mutual agreement on what an ideal situation is.
Once you’ve done that, it’s your turn to sit back and listen. You need to hear what they have to say and they need to know they’ve been heard.
3. They’ll rarely start the conversation
You need to be their best advocate. Your parents will rarely engage the conversation on their own behalf. Remember that this represents a seismic shift in their life and it’s not an easy thing for someone to come to terms with. You can be their fierce supporter without being condescending or supportive in things they don’t need help with. But you have to start the conversation and you need to continue having it.
4. There are amazing resources out there
If you’re having problems getting your aging parents to engage in a dialogue with you about their living conditions, you can always involve their primary care physician. It’s a neutral, third-party individual they’ve already had some interaction with and may have some grounds for trust they can rely upon. Think of other similar long-term relationships out there – friends, attorneys, and more. There are also many community resources, like the Alzheimer’s Association, the Department of Health and Human Services, and most states even have agencies on aging.
Again, it’s a tough conversation. The best thing you can do is to prepare yourself to have it and arm yourself with the skills and knowledge to put your best foot forward when it has to happen.