COVID-19 Update VNSNY's COVID-19 Response: Helping New Yorkers stay safe and healthy - Learn more

Planning for Support and Care for Your Loved Ones

It’s the conversation no one enjoys having—discussing care needs and wishes with aging parents: What to do in case one loses the ability to drive or take care of basic needs, how the cost of care will be covered, when to sell the house, and even their preferences regarding end of life and funeral arrangements. With some advance planning and cooperation between family members, you can take steps to ensure that your parents get first-rate care and remain as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Though it’s something many people put off, it’s important to have a candid family discussion about your aging parents’ wishes. Starting the conversation early, while your parents are in good health and able to make decisions for themselves, can make the process less stressful. It’s easier to talk about difficult topics when they are hypothetical “what-ifs,” rather than when they are crisis-driven.

Here are four suggestions to help overcome any resistance your parents might have to discussing potentially touchy subjects.

Start Early and Check In Often

“The best thing to do is to start the conversation early and start small,” says Judy Santamaria, MSPH and expert in family caregiving. It’s often not one big talk but many conversations over time that will resolve these matters.

“Elders care about many things—independence, health, finances, relationships, and security. You will not be able to cover all those topics at once. Instead, bring up things as they arise. You might say, ‘I noticed that this is getting harder for you,’ and go from there.” And check in again if the situation changes and you notice decline or need in a particular area.

Changes that may require medical assessment:

As you step in to help your aging parents, be sure to tune into changes in their physical and emotional health and their ability to take care of their own needs.

  • Has your parent experienced unexplained weight loss?
  • Does your parent have trouble getting safely around at home?
  • Is your parent having trouble handling bathing, dressing, and grooming needs?
  • Has your parent missed medical appointments?
  • Has your parent experienced a significant shift in mood?
  • Is your parent having difficulty performing regular activities?
  • Does your parent fail to take medications as directed by a physician?
  • Is your parent unable to drive safely?

Remember Your Role

It may be very tempting for adult children to take over the role of parent and simply tell their parents what they believe is the best course of action. However, unless a parent’s health and safety are at issue, their wishes must be respected.

“Ideally, your parents will take some of your advice, but these are their decisions and they are in control of their own lives. You can’t impose your will on them, but you can have open conversations where you are not judging,” says Santamaria.

If your parents don’t know much about certain medical, financial, or legal options, offer to help them research information. After they’ve reviewed it (or you’ve done so together), talk with them again about these issues—but still allow them to make the decision. The key is to keep the communication lines open and to re-evaluate your aging parents’ needs and options as they change.

Include Others

“Siblings, friends, family members, and their family doctor can really help to bring balance when discussing these difficult topics,” says Santamaria. But, of course, try to be sure that everyone is on the same page to avoid any unnecessary discord.

Consider Your Words

Make sure your parents know that your primary motivation is to help them. Rather than focus on what they won’t be able to do someday, “explain that it would give you peace of mind to know that they will be taken care of. Your goal may be to help maintain independence, manage their health, and make sure they have money to lead the life they want,” says Santamaria. “Convey your concerns and then listen to what they have to say.”

Ultimately, the most helpful things you can do is reassure your parents that you’ll be there for them, offering love and assistance every step of the way.

Are you caring for a family member or friend? Sign up for Caring Delivered, VNSNY’s free newsletter just for caregivers, and get the information you need.

Related Content

Deciding Whether It’s Time for Home Care

Deciding Whether It’s Time for Home Care

These 6 questions can help determine if home care is the right choice for you or a loved one. Read More
5 Practical Ways to Reduce Caregiver Stress

5 Practical Ways to Reduce Caregiver Stress

When many people rely on you, it’s important to take steps to reduce stress and protect your health. Here are five ways you can lighten your load and reduce the risk of burnout. Read More
How to Talk to Family About Hospice

How to Talk to Family About Hospice

Take a moment to learn more about hospice and get tips on how to talk with family about end-of-life care. Read More