Warm Ways to Start Conversations About Aging
As with most things in life, the first step is the hardest. How you approach these conversations depends on you, the person you are talking with, the nature of your relationship with that person, and your situation.
You may not get far in your first conversation, but don’t worry. It’s a lot to digest, particularly if your parents haven’t given their future much thought. Be patient. Find what works for you. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. As your parent’s health, finances and lifestyle change so will their needs and views. Also, laws, financial programs and local options will change. So revisit these conversations regularly.
To Get Started, Here are a Few Ways to Break the Ice:
If you have an open and direct relationship, don’t beat around the bush. Just come out and tell them that you’d like to talk about these issues and ask if they would mind talking about them. Everyone thinks about these things. Everyone worries at 3 AM about what their future holds.
Some time when you’re together, ask them about their past, their childhood, and their parents. Learn about them. Then move on to the future. What do they want most? How do they perceive the future? What worries them?
Discuss Someone Else’s Situation
Chances are that you or your parents know someone who is already dealing with some aspect of aging or long term care. Talking about what’s good or bad about their situation can be a useful launching point.
Mention an Article or Website
Give them a clipping, or link to information about planning ahead, family conversations, long term care costs, and move forward from there.
Ask for Advice
This is a great way to get the discussion rolling. Tell them that you’re starting a retirement account or preparing a will and ask for advice. Then ask how they planned ahead and if they feel fully prepared.
Grab an Opening
If, for example, your mother is talking about Uncle Bill, who’s in a nursing home, and rolls her eyes and says, “I don’t see how he can stand it,” ask her what she means. What would your mother want in the same circumstance? If you miss the chance, bring it up another time. “Hey Mom, remember when you said you couldn’t stand to live like Uncle Bill….”
If you find the whole thing too daunting, write a letter outlining your concerns and what you would like to discuss. This can be particularly helpful if you live far away and only have a weekend to have these talks. You can pave the way and get them to start thinking about it before you get together.
Maybe you have a sibling who is more at ease talking with your parents. Maybe your parents are more comfortable talking to someone else in the family about finances or health. Don’t be offended. You just want someone to know what’s what.