The Talk…Part I: How to Have Open Discussion with Aging Parents
You remember that awkward talk your parents may have had with you, or avoided, about the birds and the bees?
What happens if the tables turn, and now you are in a position where your parent is declining, and you just know in your heart that the big old house with steps, a yard to maintain, and echoes of the past is no longer healthy for your parent?
Opening channels of communication can be difficult. What you say and do to open the conversation is crucial. The earlier you can open these channels, the better the process will be for you and them when the decision becomes more critical. It can be the difference between a positive solution and losing the relationship with your parent in a blow-out argument. Or worse, having to try to force the hand of your parent in a crisis. What if you do not even know the options or how to open the discussion?
The good part, you do not need to have all the answers right now. You just need to listen with curiosity and objectivity. Do not judge, do not share your opinion (yet), just observe, ask clarifying questions, and get a litmus test on your parent’s thought process. Your parent is still an adult, and helping him/her feel validated, loved, and cared for can go a long way in working through it. And sometimes you may not like the answer, but if your parent is not in immediate danger, you may have to accept the decision, at least for now.
Ask your parent, how do you feel living here? Is it getting harder for you to maintain your home and take care of yourself? Discover what your parent loves about living independently, the fears, and if your parent has already thought of solutions and a timetable. These are some of the things you may hear from your parent:
- Anxiety about moving. It can be overwhelming to consider, especially if the parent lived in their current space for a long time. Can you provide support in any way?
- “Memory relationship” with their living space. It can feel like a death, or even a rejection of a lost spouse. There were celebrations, special moments, memories. Your parent may feel like everything is being given up, or abandoned, if he or she leaves this space.
- Loss of friends in the area.
- Having to live alone in a new place or living with strangers.
- Being a burden to others, whether real or an imagined perception. Again, not your place to judge. Your parent has a right to his or her own feelings.
- Financial concerns that they could not afford a new place, or the cost to move.
These are some of the concerns you may wish to help your parent consider as you get to know more about his or her thoughts:
- Difficulty and danger as mobility or memory is affected over time.
- Worry if the parent has a crisis.
- Social and physical isolation as time goes on. Looking at a situation that provides social and emotional support in a community, or in a senior living facility, may help your parent have a better-quality life. Isolation affects physical and emotional health and can contribute to decline in cognitive function. *
- The longer the parent waits, the less financial resources may be available to secure a new living situation.
- Being able to downsize possessions slowly, instead of having to scramble in a crisis.
- Estate planning concerns. How is the house titled, who has medical and financial power of attorney if there is a crisis, where does your parent(s) keep assets if unable to take care of bills?
Honor the process. If your parent is not in immediate danger, these are some of the options to consider:
- Age in place for now. This may not be what you would prefer, but quite frankly, it may not be your choice if your parent is still taking care of their basic ADLs (Activities of Daily Living): bathing, dressing, eating, transferring (being able to walk or move oneself from a bed to wheelchair), toileting, and continence control. Having to shrug and wait may be your only option. This may be hard for you to accept and it can be frustrating. If your parent is struggling with ADLs, enlist the help of the health care provider’s social services, or an assisted living emotional support resource contact. Most will have people trained to help you. You may not be able to bridge this discussion yourself. Often, parents will trust an outside “expert” more than their own child. Remember, your parents changed your diapers, put up with your childhood tantrums, and were your mentor for how many years?
- Age in place with part-time or full-time help. Do you wish to provide support physically or financially in this help?
- Downsize to a more accessible living space (consider single-level age-restricted community or condo with an elevator and accessible shower instead of that claw-foot tub).
- Downsize and rent a more accessible living space that is “senior friendly.” Some rental properties have senior transportation or cater to seniors in other ways.
- Independent to assisted living.
If independent to assisted living or an age-restricted community is something you would like your parent to consider, it would be beneficial to do your research in advance and locate places geographically close to the parent, and to you, and how they work financially. I truly believe many aging parents choose not to consider downsizing to an age-restricted community or independent to assisted living because the research seems so overwhelming. Some facilities require a deposit, some do not. Some have continuity of care or an associated facility if your parent progressively needs additional care. Some have a “benevolent fund” that if the parent runs out of assets, they will not be evicted and will be provided care for the rest of their life. Some have a meal plan and social activities, and other amenities, included in the monthly fee or HOA dues. Can you discover what your parent would love to see in a new living situation? Is it a pool, a bridge club, prepared meals, or perhaps a walking trail?
DO NOT plop a bunch of brochures in front of your parent! However, get an idea of what is available. Keep the brochures in your back pocket until your parent starts to open conversation about downsizing or needing help.
If your parent has substantial assets, it may be a stepped approach. You may wish to work with an elder care attorney to shelter some of the assets before considering independent to assisted living. Keep in mind there is a lookback period that varies from state to state, but in many states the lookback is five years. That means that if assets are removed from a parent’s estate for the purpose of sheltering money, it may need to be paid back to a living facility for continued care until depleted. Again, this is a situation where getting professional help from a versed elder-care attorney is essential.
The bottom line, this discussion is never easy, but with compassion, advance planning discussions, and some research, the transition is possible. Also, start to think about these things for yourself! It is not too early to start to develop your own action plan and timetable when you reach those later years in your life.
*Source: How Social Isolation Affects the Brain | The Scientist Magazine® (the-scientist.com) [July 13, 2020]
Jody Robinson is a wealth manager and financial planner. Serving several years as a successful female financial advisor and balancing being a working mom, Jody realized that clients need flexibility, too. She’s structured her practice to meet your needs. Her clients are her people… her tribe… and Jody safeguards those relationships as carefully as she works to protect her clients’ hard-earned money. Over the years, Jody has walked through both celebrations and hardships with clients. She remains committed to being accessible, available, authentic, and honest. Jody seeks to fully understand your needs, accommodate your schedule, and develop a long, collaborative partnership.
Jody Robinson is author of a book about the way we spend, save, and process money. The book weaves stories, interviews, and practical exercises to reflect deep to understand your relationship with money and how it is present in your life today.
Jody understands the complexity of personal and financial situations and wants to be your advocate. In 2010, after counseling and coaching clients through the Great Recession, Jody decided to pursue her own practice to better help the people she serves. She successfully faced the challenge of transitioning to an independent practice in 2015, while working as a divorced parent. She has since remarried, and her expanded family includes her son, four adult step-children and a giant, but gentle, black labrador. In philanthropy, Jody actively participates in Rotary and other volunteer activities promoting youth leadership and humanitarian service. You can reach Jody at https://meetwithjody.as.me.