Tough Talks Over Turkey

If your parents are getting older, the Thanksgiving holiday may be a good time to sit down and have a serious conversation.

Just as parents know that at some point, the time will come to talk to their kids about “the birds and the bees,” the children of aging parents know that at some point, the time will come to discuss long-term care.

It can be difficult to know how to approach the topic, what to say, and how to help the conversation go smoothly. Even if you try your best to be sensitive, your parents or other aging loved ones may feel like it’s too early to talk about this. They may worry that they’ll be treated like a burden or that you no longer care about them.

Here are some tips for communicating effectively with your loved one and showing them that you’re trying to understand and honor their wishes.

1. Be proactive. Many families make the mistake of waiting until an illness or injury forces them to seek the appropriate care. The rush creates stress for everyone, but it can be avoided by exploring options before a crisis occurs. This also gives your loved one time to get comfortable with their choices, and you’ll have time to talk through different possibilities together without any added pressure.

It’s important that you get up to speed on your parent’s health benefits and wishes. Ask them about their healthcare and discuss if their coverage matches their needs. There may be Medicare Advantage plans with additional services that can help them stay healthy and living independently longer.

2. Be considerate. Warn your loved on that, at some point during your visit, you’d like to discuss their future. This will give them time to think and prepare for the discussion and avoid putting them on the defensive. Remember that aging and end-of-life discussions are difficult for everyone and you may want to prioritize some topics and leave others for later conversations.

3. Be prepared. Make a list of the topics you’d like to cover, which could include:

  • Medical coverage – Who is their doctors? What plan do they have? What does it cover? What doesn’t it cover?
  • Long-term care wishes and benefits – If they are unable to live independently, what would they like to do? Do they have long-term care benefits? Do they have the resources for an in-home caregiver or is an assisted living facility a better option? Is moving in with a family member an option?
  • End-of-life decisions – Do they have a living will? A Durable Power of Attorney? Other written guidance that identifies who should make decisions about treatment if they are unable to speak for themselves? Also, how much medical intervention would they like?
  • Memorial preferences – Do they have any preferences for their memorial and internment? Wishes for the ceremony?

4. Listen to their needs. As you explore options together, be sure to take your loved one’s preferences into account. Listen to their fears and understand their priorities. Voice your concerns in a loving manner. They will understand that you may not be able to give them everything they want, but that you will do your best to honor their wishes.

5. Take a breather. Sometimes, conversations don’t go smoothly. Maybe they didn’t have a good day, perhaps you’re tired, or it’s possible something else is making one of you irritable. Don’t be afraid to table the discussion and try again on another day. It’s a chance to cool down and an opportunity to come up with additional ideas.

It’s important to remain respectful and put yourself in their shoes. Listen to their thoughts and wishes – even if you don’t agree with them. If you approach these tough conversations from the point of sincere concern and care for your loved one, they’re more likely to respond positively.

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