4 Things to Discuss with your Aging Parent
For the past few months I’ve been diligently working on the flexibility of my limbs; who knew that I’d get an unexpected test of flexibility for my time, finances and emotional strength? Even if your parent seems perfectly fine on Monday, everything could change Tuesday afternoon if there is a medical emergency.
Not that you can plan for these things, but I’ve thanked my mom for getting hospitalized during summer break rather than the school year. (She said she was glad to be helpful.) You see, when my dad was dying of kidney cancer, I was in my mid-20’s and single, so I just hopped on a plane and helped my mom to care for him. Things are different now. I’m married with two young children and have a small business back in Texas, so I can’t stay in New Jersey more than a few weeks this time around.
I want her to move in with me, but it would be a big change for her. She’s been a Jersey girl her whole life. It’s tough to be 75 and have to box up your memories and move to a completely foreign place. To move in with me seems like giving up her independence, something she prides herself on. It will be a big change for my family too. And she still hasn’t finished all her operations and tests yet, so her health is a big question mark. We’ve been having a lot of hard conversations. If you have aging parents, here are four things you may want to talk to them about (especially before they get sick.)
- What are your wishes? Do your parents want to stay where they are? Is that safe? If it’s not safe, what needs to be done to make it doable (like getting a medical bracelet that connects them with 911 in an emergency, or hiring a visiting nurse?) Is your mom open to moving to a single level home? Is your dad interested in a retirement community? Or do they want to live with an adult child? Or (if applicable) move to an assisted living home? It’s important that they make these decisions while they are physically and mentally capable so they are living where they want to live.
- Do you have the legal stuff in place? Soon after my father was diagnosed with cancer, I discovered that my parents didn’t have a will or any document stating their wishes about end-of-life directives. My father avoided the subject completely and so did everyone else, so I was left in the awkward position of getting it settled. Who wants to talk about death, right? I broached the subject by putting the “end date” in the very distant future. “Dad, forty years from now when you turn 100, would you want to be kept on or taken off of life support if you had no quality of life?” That helped start the conversation. We found a local attorney who set everything up for a reasonable price and when things got bad we were relieved that my father’s wishes were being followed.
- What are your finances like? Talk about a taboo subject! But with medical costs going up and people living longer, it’s important to understand how much is in their bank for a rainy day. (And the rain will come.) If your older parent moves in with you, there are things to consider too. How are day-to-day expenses going to be split? What about the bigger expenses? I know some people who had to modify their homes for their aging parent with a wheelchair. Ramps had to be added; doors were widened on bathrooms. If this is your situation, who will pay for this?
- What does your insurance cover? Is there long-term care coverage in place? What does her medical insurance cover? Can your dad get the tests he needs or does he need permission from the HMO first? And while you’re figuring all this stuff out, it’s also a good idea to make a list of all the health conditions your parents may have and any medications they take.
While the conversations may not be easy, it’s better to communicate now than to guess wrong in an emergency situation. If you are going through something similar, how did you handle it? I’d love to hear any advice you may have – just post in the comments section.
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