Preparing for the Senior Care Conversation


Published: 08/17/2011

by Senior Care Society



A conversation with your loved one about his or her long term care, financial affairs, and end of life records may well be the hardest conversation you’ll ever have. Unlike the sex talk you had with your parents when you were in school, the number one rule about this conversation is to introduce the conversation slowly and tactfully, not blind side them and corner them.  Most seniors will be resistant to the idea that they may not be physically or mentally as strong as they once were. To help you have a successful and less intimidating conversation, we've outlined some key points you should follow to start the discussion and we've elaborated on each point below.

Begin early when your loved one is healthy and can fully participate and share their wants, needs and preferences. Otherwise, you and your family may be forced to make decisions that are dictated by a life-changing event and may not necessarily reflect your parent's wishes.

Choose a time and place that makes everyone comfortable. Avoid special family gatherings (i.e. birthday parties and holidays) and distractions like young children. Choose a time that allows you to have a relaxed, unhurried conversation, giving your loved one plenty of time to share their wishes.

Include other family members, but meet before approaching your loved one to make sure everyone is on the same page to avoid an unproductive, confrontational situation. 

Make the experience non-threatening by letting your loved one know you care about their well-being and want to allow them to control their destiny by making decisions themselves. Explain that you respect their decision-making abilities and you want to help them write down their plans to help assure they are followed. You also can help open the discussion about long-term planning by inquiring whether there are any responsibilities such as home maintenance, yard work or bill paying they would like you or someone else to help with to make life easier.

Use good communication skills. Maintain good eye contact and get close enough to your loved one, without invading personal space. Closeness builds trust and allows you to speak—and be heard—in an even, controlled voice. Most importantly, don't just talk, listen to what they have to say attentively.

Share an experience such as your own retirement or estate planning as a way to gracefully transition into a conversation about your loved one's thoughts regarding the future. A friend or relative’s medical emergency could also serve as an opening for dialogue.

Ask about records and documents. Ask your loved one where they keep important documents such as insurance policies, wills, trust documents, investment and banking records, tax returns, living wills and durable powers of attorney. Explain that you want to be prepared to help them when needed. This could also serve as a way of finding out what plans he or she has already made and what needs to be done.

Ask open-ended questions that encourage your loved one to share feelings. Then sit back and carefully listen to learn what is important to him or her.

Offer options, don't dictate. Pose questions and offer more than one acceptable solution, then ask your loved one which choice they prefer. This involves them in the decision process and enables them to exercise control and independence.

Speak with respect. Approach the discussion as a partner with your loved one. In other words, make sure they are an active participant in the conversation. Stop to listen and respect their desire and need to maintain control over their lives. Avoid reversing roles in the discussion, that is, you acting as a parent and your loved one as the child. This could cause your loved one to resist your attempts to open discussion.

Keep it simple. As stated earlier, do not try to resolve everything at once. The goal is to open an ongoing, honest dialogue about your love one's future, to share information, and to understand your loved one's wishes and needs so that decisions can be made.

Involve third parties if your loved one resists your efforts to begin the discussion. He or she may be more open to the guidance of and outside party. Some good options are: a doctor, a member of the clergy, a geriatric care manager, a representative of an area agency on aging, or a trusted friend or neighbor who may have already helped a loved one in a similar situation.

Seniors Can Initiate the Conversation, Too
If you are a senior who wants to be in control of the decisions that are made about your future, you do not have to wait for your loved ones to bring up the subject of long term care. They may be too uncomfortable or scared to bring up the subject themselves.

  • Take stock in your abilities. If you begin having difficulty with activities of daily living such as personal care, driving, walking, or managing finances, speak with someone like your physician or other healthcare professional. Also, bring up the subject with family and ask for their suggestions and assistance.
  • Share your preferences with family and friends. If you want to continue living at home there may be options available like a caregiver who can assist with certain tasks. If you are finding it more difficult to cook for yourself, you may be able to have meals delivered to your home or perhaps a loved one could prepare meals for you.
  • Learn about available services to help you as you age. There are many agencies that specialize in helping seniors live independently at home. Physicians, social workers, geriatric care managers and other healthcare professionals help you identify these resources, and your local Area Agency or Council on Aging can provide a listing of services that are available in your area.

The bottom line is that you are the best judge of you abilities. By taking a proactive approach to maintaining your independence, you will most likely prolong your ability to remain independent.