Parents Refuse To Talk About Getting Old? A Conversational Guide

Retirement

Aging is insidious. We know life flies but the future seems so far away. One day you are 30 and the next you are 50 years old. You don’t feel and look much different, but you probably notice that your parents are getting old-old. And you are worried about them.

Are they okay financially? Who knows how to pay the bills? How are they going to keep up with the house maintenance? Will they get dementia? What happens if they can’t drive? What if they have stroke?

Years pass quickly, but ten years in the future feels very long away. Your parents feel this way too and they think there is still plenty of time to plan. Your parent’s unspoken fear? If they talk about it, bad things will happen!

We know this thought pattern is irrational. It is important to plan for what I call “The Big Four of Aging” before disaster strikes – when are they going to get help with finances, move to a safer living situation, quit driving, and get help with health decisions? By having a plan in advance, there is a reduction of family fights, medical mishaps, financial mismanagement, and the controllable costs of aging.

So what do you do if you try to bring up these topics and you are met with silence? Here are some pointers of how to open the conversation.

Share a story

Plenty of stories abound of disasters about getting old. If you don’t have your own, use this true story.

“Mom, I heard about this woman who had a stroke and her kids didn’t know anything about how to pay her bills. It turns out she didn’t have anyone named to act for her, they didn’t know how to log into her accounts to pay her bills, and while they were trying to figure out her medical situation, all the bills came overdue. She ended up in rehabilitation for months and it was a mess.

I worry about what might happen to you. What do you have in place in case you have a bad health event or an accident?”

By sharing your concerns as a realistic story and ending with an open-ended question that can’t be easily swatted away, you are more likely to have a productive conversation.

Share your own planning

A medical event can happen at any time. All of us need to plan for two basic life functions if we can’t take care of ourselves but are still alive – how are our bills going to be paid and what health care decisions do we want our loved ones to make for us.

Everyone should name a durable power of attorney and a health care surrogate. You should have plans in place so they can take over if a bad event happens – a document that outlines your bills and income sources, how to get to the documents needed for them to take over, and clear documentation of your health care wishes.

Tell your parent, “Guess what I did?!” Share your planning with them, then ask, “What have you put in place in case something happens to you?” Again, using open-ended questions that can’t be brushed aside leads to more fruitful conversations.

Share sites that help plan for aging

There are a number of sites that help people plan for aging events. People are often more comfortable sharing their thoughts with a computer than they are with the ones they love. Whatever it takes to get it done!

Liz Weston provides a nice resource on available tools. She named three currently available.

Everplans helps you organize all the important information your family needs to assist with the finances including checklists and educational information on planning.

Eversafe provides monitoring of accounts for potential fraud and other unusual activity. This will ideally reduce the risk of fraud and abuse as you age.

Whealthcare Planning provides three assessments – creation of a financial care taking plan, a cognitive screen that identifies issues with financial decision making, and a proactive aging plan that helps lay out when a person will change living situations, quit driving, and get help with health care decisions. (Full disclosure – I am a co-founder and one of the developers of Whealthcare Planning.)

If the situation is dire, engage a geriatric care manager

Most families don’t address problems with aging until it is too late. Consider hiring a geriatric care manager to assess the situation and give an objective opinion on the needs of your parents. Often, the situation is not as dire as you think or they may have simple solutions to mitigate the situation while further planning takes place.

Most importantly, keep trying, but with a sense of grace and humor. At some point, most will come around and do the basics, if only to get you out of their hair.

Aging is tough, and by normalizing the conversation and preparing in advance, we can ideally mitigate disaster and help our parents make the “golden years” a little more peaceful and less costly financially and emotionally for all.

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