Having “The Conversation”— it doesn’t have to hurt
By “The Conversation,” I don’t mean the facts of life talk we had with our kids. I’m referring to a topic that arises every day for those of us who work with older adults and their children.
“The Conversation” is the difficult, sometimes heated discussion between adult child and parent about the older adult’s living needs, now and in the future, held before a health or other crisis makes planning impossible. “Mom, we think you may need assisted living.” “Dad, we know it’s not the same without Mom — maybe you could use a little extra help.” “Someday something’s going to happen, and we won’t be close enough to be here for you.”
Recently, eldercare specialist Debra Drelich wrote about having “The Conversation” in “Booming,” a section of The New York Times tailored to baby boomers. I’d like to add to Ms. Drelich’s great advice. Keep in mind that:
- People have different personalities and preferences. Some people are planners by nature. Planners keep an up-to-date appointment book, track spending and income on spreadsheets, and have a financial plan in place. They may not like surprises, but they appreciate being prepared. They may be more open to having “The Conversation” because it puts them in control.
Others prefer to go with the flow. They may feel “The Conversation” asks them to make a decision at a time when they don’t see a need to. They may feel defensive instead of empowered.
“The Conversation” should be tailored to the individual and approached with sensitivity. There is no one, correct way to start “The Conversation.”
- Older adults may hear about “The Conversation” from their friends. It may sound like Mary’s daughters are trying to tuck her into a nursing home. That’s how Mary heard “The Conversation,” and that’s how she repeats it.
Perhaps Mary’s daughters actually suggested assisted living, which could help Mary keep track of her heart and diabetes medications, get to the store and doctors’ appointments, and get dressed easily in spite of her painful, arthritic joints — all without sacrificing her independence.
- “The Conversation” can be positive. It doesn’t have to be about what Mom can’t do, but about the opportunities and possibilities that come with change. It’s not that she can’t manage her medications — it’s that assisted living allows her to focus on what she enjoys, which isn’t counting pills. Maybe it’s current events. Scrapbooking. Leading discussion groups. Maybe it’s even writing that novel or family history she never had time for.
“The Conversation” is not about giving up independence. It’s about making a positive choice for yourself that enhances your life, not takes away from it. It’s about taking action that can prevent a crisis. For both the older adult and his or her children, it’s often about peace of mind.
In future posts, we’ll talk more about “The Conversation” and how to make it an easier, more productive dialogue. We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Have you had “The Conversation” with your parent or adult child? What made it easier or more difficult? Was a choice made? How do you feel about it?
Posted by Julie Stevens
Director of Sales and Marketing
An award-winning innovator in independent and assisted living lifestyle programs, Julie Stevens has made older adults a daily part of her life for more than 15years. In her blog, Inspirations, Julie and other experts explore topics of interest to older adults, from what’s new in the world of health, wellness and fitness to the latest technology and gadgets that make life easier and more interesting. We’ll see you again next week!