Have the Conversation: Talking to Parents About the Future
Transitioning from child to caregiver can be incredibly overwhelming; particularly when your parent’s health state demands special accommodations. After all, this often means taking on the roles she or he has filled throughout our lives—nurturer, supporter, protector, advisor, and confidant. What’s more, your parent may not yet be willing or ready to have you take on these responsibilities.
Having a plan to discuss your parent's future health and any necessary arrangements is very important, but it's never easy. Make the flow of communication easier as you embark on one of life’s most challenging, enlightening, and rewarding journeys by following these guidelines:
1. Begin Early
Don’t be afraid to ask your parent the difficult questions, so when the time comes, you and your family will be ready for any uncertainties.
If your parent's health is beginning to make it difficult for them to live on their own, it may be time to start talking about support options like home care that address their current or future needs while allowing them to continue enjoying their independence and the lifestyle they are comfortable with.
You may also wish to begin exploring aging-in-place or adult day care options, also known as intermediate care facilities, particularly if your parent lives alone. These programs allow you and your parent to avoid or delay a permanent move into an assisted living or skilled nursing facility by bridging the gap between 24-hour home care and nursing home care. These facilities also provide relief to you as a caregiver, when it may not be possible to provide full-time attention to your parent.
2. Be Open and Honest
Bringing up emotionally charged topics can be hard, for both the child and the parent. Being honest about your feelings is vital. Open communication between you and your parent eliminates unnecessary stress and confusion.
As such, it’s important to understand what (if any) plans have been made, take time to make sure your parent's wishes are known and accurately documented at a high level of detail, and to make this information available to physicians, family members, clergy, etc. at the appropriate time in the form of advance directives.
Advance directives are legal documents that help make end-of-life care decisions easier by helping your parent outline his or her wishes. Advance directives provide specifics about resuscitation, organ donation preferences, and care information when someone is unable to speak for him/herself.
Two key components of an advance directive are a power of attorney and a living will.
- A power of attorney is a legal document declaring your parent’s healthcare proxy. A healthcare proxy, or agent, or surrogate—often a child, spouse, or other close relative—who makes medical decisions when they are unable..
- A living will is a written document that explains to doctors how your parent would like to be treated if they were ever permanently unconscious, frail, or dying. It’s their opportunity to tell healthcare providers which procedures they would want and which ones they wouldn’t want. Think of a living will as their metaphorical voice, which helps you have a clear understanding of their wishes and protects you from being put in a position where you may feel compelled to go against them.
Advance directives are useful guides, but the real value is in discussing the choices with your family. Talk extensively with your family members about the values your parent wants to uphold and what kinds of medical support he or she will need.
3. Be Patient
Giving up control can be very difficult, and the change may feel uncomfortable or even threatening. If they aren't immediately open to having the conversation, respect their wishes and revisit the topic on another day if their health allows it.
Listen closely and offer feedback demonstrating that you understand their concerns. Take time to explain to your parent that you have their best interests in mind and that you respect their values, thoughts, and wishes when it comes to their health and care.. Participate with them in the decision-making process.