How to Talk to an Aging Parent About the Future

Man has a chat with his elderly father

It’s easy to assume everything is going well for your parent as he or she ages. After all, if they’ve been getting along for decades without any major health issues, you might think that’s exactly what the future holds as well. While we all hope our parents won’t face any health difficulties, it’s important to face their health status with honesty and transparency. A parent may be unaware of changes in their own behavior, or they might not want to burden the children new health concerns, so it’s often up to the children to pay attention and address the situation.

Your parent’s changes may be subtle, such as forgetting names or misplacing items, but it’s time to address them if these behaviors are starting to detract from a parent’s day-to-day life. The trouble is, facing these changes is easier said than done. It requires difficult conversations, thorough planning and plenty of compromises along the way. Your parent probably doesn’t want to talk about big lifestyle changes any more than you, so in this situation, it’s up to you to assume responsibility for taking the first steps toward additional care. Making decisions for elderly parents isn’t easy, but with this guide, that conversation will be a little less difficult.

How to Start the Conversation

The first step toward a big lifestyle change is having a talk with your parent about his or her future. While this might sound simple, it is likely to be the most difficult part of the process. It might feel like breaking bad news, as many parents are opposed to major lifestyle changes. If you start to feel discouraged, remember that you are only having the conversation in order to help. Just as your parent provided guidance for you as a child, you can help them make the right choices for the future.

Choose a relaxed, comfortable place and time to talk to your parent. This isn’t a topic you’re going to want to bring up during stressful events like the holidays, so think about the times that your parent seems most at ease and talkative. Catching them after a social gathering like church could be the perfect time to chat.

Tell your parent that you’d like to talk about something that’s been on your mind. Be clear that this is a topic that’s important to you and not something that just occurred to you. It’s best to have this talk in person, but if your parent lives out of state, a video call could be the best way to get in touch. Start by asking the parent questions about how they envision the next few years. Frame the conversation in a positive way, and make it clear you’re curious because you care.

Step Into Their Shoes

When you are empathetic toward your parent, it shows. Listen closely to their thoughts, opinions and feelings about their current living situation, and make an effort to understand their perspective. There are countless factors to consider when deciding whether it’s time to help your parent make a big transition, and one of the most important is how it will affect their happiness. There’s no faster way to shut down the conversation than to immediately dismiss how your parent feels.

This doesn’t mean you need to take their word as the absolute truth. It simply means taking the time to understand how they think a move to a new location will impact his or her life.

Questions to ask an elderly parent about their life could include:

  • How happy are you with your current living situation?
  • How is your health affecting your daily life?
  • What kind of challenges do you face that you didn’t before?
  • Has forgetfulness led to any negative changes in your life?
  • How do you feel about the idea of living around others?

These questions provide a great starting point to get the conversation rolling. If they’re open to a new living situation, the rest of the planning process should be fairly straightforward. If they are reluctant, it will take some more convincing to encourage a transition to a senior living community.

If your parent already has friends in senior living communities, bringing up this fact may help you build your case. You can pique your parent’s interest by reminding them about their friends’ experiences. Do these seniors enjoy their new social networks, recreational activities and assistance with daily responsibilities? In many cases, the answer will be yes. You can help to reduce any anxiety around the unknown by bringing your parent’s attention to these relationships.

Dealing With Reluctance to Change

Your parent may hold strong opinions about their ability to get by on a day-to-day basis, and question whether a change is necessary. What makes this conversation so difficult is that there is a bit of a role reversal at play. While the parent has always “known what’s best,” in this case, you are the one who has to make the tough decisions. This change in authority could feel unnatural and uncomfortable, and if it does, think of it as a sign that your efforts to take on a tough topic are going as planned.

It’s important not to become disheartened if your parent has hesitations about such a big change. At this stage, they might not be considering how memory care will be a change for the better. Rather than discussing the difficulties of the transition, the focus should be on helping your parent live their best life possible. Lifestyle improvements such as seeing friends every day and a reduction in household responsibilities might not be on your parent’s radar, but they should be.

If your parent says a move will make them unhappy, tell the parent you completely understand, before moving on to list your reasons for feeling concerned. Come prepared to the conversation with the reasons for your concern already in the back of your mind.

Some of your concerns might include a parent’s inability to:

  • Take proper medication dosages
  • Get around town safely
  • Have immediate access to healthcare resources
  • Get up and down stairs safely
  • Remember important appointments

By describing concrete changes in behavior like these, your parent will have the opportunity to reflect on your specific concerns. Just as it’s important for you to listen to your parent’s perspective, they need to understand yours. If they can see that you truly care about doing what’s best for them, they are more likely to be receptive to lifestyle changes.

Financial Planning

No two families are exactly alike, so talking about finances with a parent will be easier for some than others. A move to a senior care community requires some financial planning. If your parent has agreed that it is time for a move, the next step is deciding what type of change makes sense for your budget and how to best address the financial concerns that come with a move.

A good first step is calculating your parent’s net worth. During your conversation, create a detailed list of their income sources that includes:

  • Retirement Savings Accounts
  • Social Security
  • Pensions
  • Valuable assets
  • Investments
  • Expected home sale price
  • Long Term Care insurance plan
  • VA Aid and Attendance Benefits (for veterans and their spouses)
  • Any other sources of income

Additionally, calculate your parent’s current living expenses. Include existing car, home and credit card payments in this figure. It’s important to understand your parent’s current cost of living so you can accurately calculate their budget for a senior care community. While it might seem like a lot of work, it is well worth getting finances in order sooner rather than later.

This may also be a good time to determine who will have control of your parents’ bank accounts. If you come to an agreement, you may want to complete a power of attorney transfer at this point. This is also a good time to draft up wills and trusts with an experienced elder law attorney. Taking a proactive approach to these responsibilities can provide peace of mind in the long run. If an emergency health situation were to occur down the line, the last thing you’ll want to worry about is finances.

Next Steps

Once your parent is on board with the idea of a move to a senior care community, it’s time to start thinking about getting his or her legal and medical documents in order. Ask your parent to help you find all of the documents you will need for the transition. While your parent might know where they keep important records for safekeeping, you’re going to want to have them in one easily accessible place before deciding on a senior care community.

Some of the legal documents to gather include:

  • Marriage certificates
  • Military records
  • Life insurance policy
  • Power of Attorney record
  • Living will
  • HIPAA Authorization form

The medical documents you should be looking out for are:

  • Basic medical records, including:
    • Blood type
    • Allergy list
    • Chronic conditions list
    • List of medications with dosage information
    • Doctor visits date list
    • Test results information
    • Recent surgeries
  • Your parent’s doctors’ contact information
  • A family illness history
  • Vision and dental records
  • Organ donor authorizations

To stay organized, set aside a dedicated folder, drawer or cabinet for storing all of the medical documentation you can find. This storage should be easily accessible for anyone in your family who might need access. If you ever need to make medical decisions for your elderly parents, having these documents close at hand will prevent additional stress. For added security, consider placing these documents in a fireproof safe in your own home. That way, you will have fast access to necessary senior care paperwork.

Choosing a Senior Care Community

Once you’ve talked to your parent about the next chapter in his or her life, you’re sure to feel relieved. Simply getting the conversation going is an important first step in the transition, so don’t feel discouraged if your parent still has hesitations about the change. Every parent will react differently to this type of planning, but the most important thing you can do is show that you’re taking action because you want them to be as comfortable and safe as possible.

When you’re both on board for a big change, it’s time to start thinking about what kind of care is best for them. See our guides on Assisted Living vs Nursing Homes to see if either of these options are right for your parent. If your parent is facing memory-related setbacks, Memory Care or Enhanced Care may be better options.

Still need more help finding the right environment for your parent? We are here to help. Get in touch with our friendly team to learn more about our communities and transitioning into them.