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How to Have a Family Conversation about Care for Aging Parents

Gathering at a Fourth of July celebration this year will hopefully be a fun family experience.  However, if we haven’t seen our aging loved ones in some time you may notice their decline is happening faster or is more severe than in the past.  Siblings may not notice the same things you are seeing, especially if they see your parents often.  They may live nearby and see them coping with the changes.  Statements like, “They haven’t fallen yet”, or “They don’t want any help” are common but indicate a need to discuss the situation in more depth.  

Having that first conversation about an aging loved one and their needs can be challenging, but it should be done sooner rather than later. As a person ages, their ability to make decisions may diminish. Everyone in the family should feel heard for a decision as important as this one. 


Steps for a Successful Family Care Conversation 

Step 1: Plan the Conversation

As the saying goes, seeing is believing. Phone calls don't always convey the complete picture of the situation. How can your family make this easier? Try to pick a date and time when you can get the whole family together and in person for this vital conversation. If it’s impossible to get your family together in person, a video call can be the next best alternative. 

Try not to wait for an accident or medical emergency before addressing the future – after all, it is always harder to think clearly and make decisions in moments of crisis.  

There are many different options for aging loved ones depending on their situation and hopes.  The vast majority wish to age in place.  This can be accomplished by starting early and making changes to their home that will help them meet their goal.  It may be less expensive than you think, and much less expensive than moving to an apartment while they still have a choice to live age in place.  Often seniors homes are paid for which reduces the overall cost of living in them.  The extra money that previously went to the mortgage can go toward modifications, handyman work, and services like lawn maintenance and snow removal.  

Keeping costs as reasonable as possible is important so that future bills can be covered.  If your parents live out of State in some cases, adult children can be responsible for their parent's care expenses.  If your parents live in a “filial responsibility State” The short answer is, “it depends”. Certain states, not Minnesota, have what’s known as filial responsibility laws. With these laws in place, adult children are responsible for paying for the care of their older parents.

How does the filial responsibility law work? In short, if an aging parent finds themselves unable to pay for assisted living, medical bills, shelter, clothing, food, and other expenses, the adult children must step in and cover their costs.

Step 2: Share concerns from a place of love  

Although this can be intimidating, staying calm and taking breaks is important. The initial conversation is to understand each other and begin to set goals together as a family.  Having your parent’s at the meeting depends on the family and individual dynamics.  Having a separate meeting and coming together with a unified front from the children might help–and it might not. These are very unique situations.  

Have the necessary paperwork or documents to help everyone in the family. Sharing any stories or anecdotes from the older family member’s doctors or friends will be helpful as well. It's easier for everyone to understand the situation when medical records illustrate significant care concerns. If the older member of the family expresses interest in staying in their home as they age, then in-home care may be the right choice for them.  If a family member has accepted a Power of Attorney for their parent's care or finances, make sure they are receptive to the responsibility.  

Step 3: Talk it out 

Allow everyone time to speak; everyone might not always agree during this process but respecting each other and staying level-headed is key. Ultimately a good rule of thumb is to ask a lot of questions. Ask siblings and family members for their thoughts and what they think about getting an aging parent in-home assistance, moving to an independent living, or assisted living facility, and ask parents their desires for this next step in life.  

What to do after the first conversation? Give it some time, and make sure everyone has collected their thoughts from the initial discussion.  

Every family is different. Don't feel discouraged if a few conversations are needed before everyone is comfortable moving to the next step. It can take some time for siblings and family members to come around; just remember to be patient and make sure everyone has a clear understanding of their role and responsibility in this decision.  

Resources for Moving Forward

Take a look at these resources for moving the conversation forward and things to consider as you understand the situation.  If they are considering living at home but will need some assistance  Here's a resource to help understand and define roles.  Often seniors don't want strangers in their homes.  A way to reduce the stress of introducing new people into their homes is to help them understand what those people will be doing.  Here is a video that shows a family member connecting through a caregiver with her mom.  How Comfort Keepers Kept My Family Connected 

Trying to reduce everyone's stress, especially aging parents is very important in these critical discussions.  


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