When to you know it’s time to talk to your family about elder care needs? When an aging family suddenly needs critical care or is diagnosed with a progressive disease? Or, have you tried to talk about the future before his or her physical or mental abilities are changing? While many people worry about these issues or avoid talking about them, it is a good conversation to have sooner rather than later.

Questions to Consider

Do you need to hire professional services or bring paid caregivers into the elder’s home?

Do you need to consider placing the elder in an assisted living or nursing home?

Do you know if your aging loved one has a will or a health care proxy?

Define the Need
Ideally, you and your family members should have a conversation before there is a crisis, although it is more common that there is no discussion prior to a decrease in an elder’s physical or mental ability. It is a difficult conversation to start for both the younger and older generation but once started, it may turn out that everyone feels a sense of relief once the topic is raised. One way to bring the subject up is to mention an article you read about the issue or recently spoke to a friend in a similar situation. This not only introduces the subject in a less personal way but also helps remind your older loved on that other people are facing the similar challenges.

Who Should Participate in the Conversation?
While you don’t want the elder to feel overwhelmed, you do want the conversation to be as caring and helpful as possible. How many people are included will depend upon individual family dynamics as well as the personality, marital status, gender and overall health of the elder. It might also be a good idea to talk with the rest of the family before meeting with your aging love one, providing an opportunity for everyone to discuss their personal concerns and needs as well as what role their thoughts about the future and the level of assistance they can provide. Potential participants may include:

The elder’s spouse

All, some or at least one of the elder’s adult children

The elder’s favorite family member, such as a niece or nephew

The elder’s sibling(s)

A family doctor or other respected professional, such as an attorney, could help facilitate the conversation and answer related questions

Where and When Should You Have the Conversation?
To try to keep tensions down as much as possible, consider what the most comfortable environment would be for your aging loved one to discuss your concerns and voice his/her own opinions. Many older adults tire easily later in the day, so it might be best to meet in the morning, perhaps after breakfast. If there is a particular room, chair or environment the senior feels most comfortable, that would be an ideal setting for this type of conversation as well. Topics the might need to be discussed:

Start with small decisions and small changes but be direct and specific about your concerns, next steps and ideas for a vary of solutions.

If necessary, introduce the idea that an “expert” will be brought in for an assessment to help determine the level of care that might currently be needed as well as evaluate and suggest options for future care. For example, a social worker or occupational therapist could assess the elder’s ability to do daily tasks as well as make suggestions to make the current living environment easier and safer.

If the Elder is in Denial
Many people are in denial about the challenges of growing older, including fellow family members and the elder in question. It is common that one of more family members may deny there is any problem at all, especially in the early stages of limitations, such as the elder’s ability to continue driving. It is very likely everything will not be resolved with just one conversation but consider yourselves successful for introducing the subject and working toward solutions. There will probably need to be several discussions over a period of time as the elder’s needs and health change but remember to be supportive and sympathetic about the difficulty of change and the potential loss of independence the elder is facing.

Remember to Listen
Remember to listen to what the elder has to say about his or her situation and the options for solutions that are suggested rather than just stated what changing need to occur. Loss of independence is one of the biggest fears elders face and if can keep that in mind and help him or her to take an active part in the plans for the future, everything should be easier in a difficult situation.

For assistance locating elder care services or if the time has come when you or a family member is no longer able to live independently, contact ElderLink to discuss the options and learn about assisted living services and facilities within California.