Are you thinking it’s time to schedule a family meeting to talk about your aging parents?

Don’t do it.

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I’m really comfortable talking about caregiving and I love my family, but the thought of sitting down with them all at once to discuss it stresses me out.

Would you want your entire extended family to gather together so they could plan out your impending death? That sounds awful. Let’s save family gatherings for fun stuff.

Start the conversation

You don’t need a special occasion to talk about aging.

The sooner you start talking about aging, the better it is for everyone. The longer the conversation is delayed, the more it’s going to feel like a big, scary problem. Aging isn’t a problem. Enough of us need help, even temporarily, long before we’re getting AARP in the mail that it’s good to have these discussions with everyone we care about.

First, write down all the questions you have for your parents. Maybe you want to ask them:

  • What will you do if you need help every day?
  • How much can your family help you?
  • What would you do if you couldn’t stay in your own home?
  • How can you adapt your home to make it safer?
  • How can we pay for medical care?
  • How can we pay for home health care?
  • How can we pay for nursing care?
  • What’s most important to you if you become very ill?
  • Who do you want to make decisions for you if necessary?

Then, answer all of these questions for yourself. What would you want if you were ill or injured?

Look over your insurance policies, your medical coverage, your savings, and  your bills. Fill out a living will. Think about what your family would do without you.

Then think about how you should approach these topics with your parents.

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Perhaps the easiest way to start the conversation is to talk about yourself. I’m a millennial, but I’ve given both of my parents copies of my living will. Calling my parents to discuss insurance plans elicits information on their own plans and concerns. My debates on whether remodeling my bathroom to conform with universal design surely get them to look at their own bathrooms with a critical eye.

Know what matters

The idea isn’t to get ready for your parents to die, it’s about knowing what they value the most. What pieces of their identity are most crucial? What gives their life meaning? These are the sorts of things parents are probably happy to talk about.

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The stronger your relationship and the better you know each other, the easier it is to talk about what they’d want their lives to be like if they were to be seriously ill or disabled.

These aren’t things most people think about. Sometimes people can’t answer because they have no idea what they want. You have to talk it through a couple times before you can stick a medical directive in front of someone and expect them to fill it out.

These conversations are so important. My mother hasn’t written out a living will, but we’ve talked about enough things over the years that I feel confident that if something happened, I could make the choice she’d want me to make for her.

Plan from the beginning

We spend so much time planning our retirement, but people will refuse to talk about picking a home where they can age in place or sketching out a long-term care plan. Not talking about these things doesn’t make them go away, it just makes it scarier when it does happen.

When you evaluate a new place to live, think about how you’d be able to navigate it on crutches, with a walker, or in a wheelchair. When looking for a new job, think about the medical and disability coverage. How much is enough to save for retirement care? Ask your parents how they navigated these decisions as each of them comes up.

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Don’t make it awkward

Any time someone tells me “we need to talk” I feel a little panicky. Don’t make it more awkward then it has to be.

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There are so many great articles, podcasts, books, and movies to prompt deep conversations about what matters to someone. We talk about what we’d do if we won the lottery, we can learn to talk about things that are more likely the same way.

Then you’re talking about this amazing book you just read, not planning their demise.

If you’re really ready to get creative, plenty of historic cemeteries offer tours. Quite a few of them are gorgeous places with fascinating stories. If your family shares a certain type of humor, bringing it up while standing in a crypt is one way to make the conversation unavoidable.

About Cori Carl

Profile photo of Cori CarlAs Director, Cori develops our comprehensive global communications and development strategy. She’s constantly tweaking our services based on data-driven marketing metrics and feedback from caregivers. She works to grow our community and build the reputation of The Caregiver Space by amplifying the message on social media, cultivating relationships with experts, creating organizational partnerships, and earning media coverage. She’s an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for Caregivers.

Cori joined The Caregiver Space after a decade of serving as a communications consultant for a number of nonprofit organizations and corporations furthering sustainable energy and urban planning solutions.

Currently, Cori is finishing up her MA in Corporate Communications from Baruch College at CUNY, and has a BA in Media Studies from Eugene Lang College at the New School University. She divides her time between Flatbush, Brooklyn, and downtown Toronto.

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