Caregiving: How to Start the Conversation

When Should I Start the Conversation?

Plan now for a gathering with an aging adult and his or her family or close friends–those likely to be responsible for administering care. No one wants to talk about when they can no longer drive or can no longer make sound decisions for themselves. But, the bottom line is that getting the conversation started is important, and that it’s never too soon to do so.

Determine a time to talk that isn’t related to when Mom or Dad gets sick. Many care managers suggest retirement age, when most adults are still healthy and the conversation can seem less threatening.

How Should the Conversation Take Place?

Meet in a neutral location and arrange plenty of time. It should be a place where the older person can be comfortable and heard, but still leaves everyone feeling on even ground and unhurried.

If possible, have the conversation with the whole family present. This allows everyone to discuss sensitive issues, such as who will have the financial and health care power of attorney. Don’t wait until the older person’s health is in jeopardy and everyone is arguing over it.

Have a list of what needs to be accomplished to keep you on track and make sure you don’t overlook any important issues.

Listening is Key

Be as specific as possible in your discussions. Allow the older adult to express things such as: “I want to live at home forever.” “I want to live at home until my money runs out.” “I want to live at home as long as the cost-benefit ratio is even.”

Ask about the older person’s expectations. Does the person expect the caregiver to quit his or her job to provide care, or does he or she simply ask that the caregiver call or stop in occasionally? Most of the time adult children impose more expectations on themselves than even the parents have.

Start Reaching Out to Caregivers

Ask for commitments from caregivers. Decide who will drive to doctor’s appointments or help with shopping, cleaning and meals. For relatives who live farther away, create a schedule for telephone calls, e-mails and visits and discuss other ways they can help from a distance.

Put it in writing. Legal documents such as a living will and power of attorney are important official documents, but it may also help to have a personal, written agreement among aging adults and their family members.