Many families head home for the holidays, gathering together and reconnecting with loved ones who they may have not seen in a while. Many times, these gatherings are the first settings where family members notice age-related decline, as well as cognitive and health or safety issues facing older loved ones.
Maybe a family member is having mobility issues or seem to need more help with the activities associated with daily living. Perhaps there is nothing wrong but you just feel like it’s important to discuss options surrounding topics such as senior living, finances, or even end-of-life wishes.
Whatever the reason, The Classic wants to help families learn how to recognize problems and provide advice on having tough conversations with them this holiday season.
Prepare for the Talk
Before your family arrives for the holidays, create a list of all the things you want to cover. There are certain topics that should probably be discussed, including:
- Any perceived age-related decline and/or cognitive ability
- Financial planning
- Health and safety
- Legal planning
- General well-being
If moving to a senior living community is definitely off the table, you and your family members may want to discuss who would take over as a caregiver(s) if it becomes necessary.
Discussing Health and Safety Issues
Physical decline is a natural part of the aging process, but it can be difficult for both you and your family member to discuss. Despite this, families are encouraged to open a dialogue regarding health and safety issues.
The first elements to ask about are the activities of daily living, which includes tasks such as:
- Dressing themselves
- Cooking/feeding themselves
- Proper grooming and hygiene
- Using the restroom
- Housekeeping and basic home maintenance
- Shopping for groceries and other essentials
- Walking around and general mobility
If your family member has any difficulty performing these basic necessities of life, it can lead to major issues, and it may be an indicator of other possible health issues.
Discussing Financial Planning with Your Aging Loved Ones
Bringing up the subject of finances with your parents or another relative can often be a sensitive subject, but as loved ones get older it becomes increasingly important. Modern medicine is helping us live longer than ever before, and while that is generally a good thing, it can cause problems down the road if you don’t adequately prepare yourself financially.
Being prepared for any potential future costs requires a thorough conversation regarding your loved one’s current and future financial position, expenses, lifestyle, medical needs, and other sensitive topics.
Approach the conversation with care, and make sure to:
- Ask your parents about their goals
- Practice what you want to say
- Talk in a comfortable setting
Speak to a financial professional, preferably one with experience in retirement planning, and be sure to stay involved as your loved one will let you. Use caution, as there are unscrupulous financial advisors out there who could try to take advantage of senior clients.
Discuss Legal Planning with Your Loved One
Legal planning is an important aspect of retirement planning. The main goal of any legal plans should be to ensure that your loved one’s wishes are carried out while also protecting you and your family. For these reasons, we recommend discussing legal matters with them candidly.
Everyone, regardless of their age or status, should have both a will and a living will, but this is especially true for older adults. It’s also important that they have (and you are aware of) the following legal items:
- A life insurance policy
- An end-of-life wishes letter (for things not covered by a will)
- Authorization to release health care information
- Health insurance
- Health care proxy (durable healthcare power-of-attorney (POA)
- Insurance cards
- Lists of current medication and health conditions
- Organ donor information
Assessing and Discussing Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Cognitive (mental) decline can be one of the most intimidating facets of aging for many older adults and their children. During the holiday season, you should keep an eye out for the following warning signs:
- Repeatedly asking the same questions
- Changes in normal behavior
- Difficulty holding a conversation
- Difficulty with short-term memory
- Forgetting names
Some older adults learn to develop coping mechanisms to deal with one or more of these issues, so you may have to pay close attention to notice if they are having any difficulties or displaying any of the aforementioned warning signs.
When and How to Talk About Senior Living Options
It’s recommended that you discuss the topic of your loved one’s situation with other family members before you bring it up during the holidays. Consider waiting until everyone has arrived and settled in before broaching the topic. Many times, people are worn out from traveling and fatigue can be a major contributor to frustration. The last thing you want is a big “blow-up” at the start of your holiday celebration.
If at any point you feel these topics are upsetting your loved one, take a break for a while. Making the situation seem urgent will just further contribute to frustration. Many people associate making the move to a senior living community with a loss of independence or usefulness, which is why, when, and how you discuss these topics is so important.
Other tips to help this conversation go more smoothly include:
- Be sure the person understands that the move will make them more comfortable and keep them safe.
- Reassure them that this their choice and the decision is entirely up to them.
- If you or your loved one know someone who lives in a senior living community, invite them to come and talk about their experiences with you.
- Make sure the whole family is on the same page. You don’t want others offering conflicting opinions or advice.
- Reassure them this is just a change of address and that you will visit regularly.
Having these conversations may not always be easy. It’s important for you to be your loved one’s health advocate, especially if they are experiencing physical or mental decline. While their opinion and wishes are important, it’s also critical for you to know when to be compassionate but firm in explaining what you believe is best for their overall welfare.