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5 Practical things to discuss with your elderly parents before it’s too late

No one likes to talk about growing old, sickness and dying, especially with their parents. However, if certain decisions are not made now, when your parents are capable of making these decisions, then they will be left for family members to decide when it’s too late.

This can tear a family apart, and it happens all too frequently. We need to stop making these topics taboo and instead bring them out in the open.

1) Will and power of attorney

Start by asking the basics: Do your parents have a will? Who has power of attorney for their finances? What about medical care? If they don’t have this set up yet, then ask them what and who they would want, and get the ball rolling. Whoever has power of attorney for finances needs to know where your parents’ money is located, how to access it and what their bills are. This should be an ongoing discussion, as finances are always changing. Whoever has power of attorney for medical care needs to know your parents’ health care status and conditions as well as their wishes (which we will discuss later).

2) Finances

The reason children need to know details of their parents’ finances is that it will directly affect them at some point. If your parents are retiring “because it’s time” at the age of 65 but don’t have enough money to live on their own for 20 to 30 more years, then the children will have to pitch in. This might mean housing them, helping them pay bills or even paying for their nursing home out of pocket if it comes to that. Ask your parents such questions as how much money they have saved for daily living, how long they think this money will last and what their financial expectations are from you children. If they are unsure about any of these questions, then find a financial adviser to help out.

3) Place of residence

As hard as it might be to discuss now, it will be harder to discuss at the last minute. If your parents are married and one of them dies, where will the other live? What if they are too ill to care for themselves? Make a decision together that is best for all involved. If you can’t house them, then make it known now. If you can house them but only while they’re self-sufficient, then let them know. If they have the finances to pay for in-house nursing care, then discuss this option. If a retirement home and a possible nursing home are in their future, then make sure it doesn’t come as a surprise. Social workers in the community or in hospitals are often a good resource for housing information.

4) Resuscitation status

This is a long and complicated discussion for which everyone should do their research before making any decisions. The confusion lies in the term “do not resuscitate” or “DNR,” which should actually be phrased “allow natural death.” A DNR status does not mean your loved one will not be treated for pneumonia or heart disease; it simply means that should their heart stop (signifying death), then the medical staff will not go to extraordinary measures to get it started again. These measures often include traumatic chest compressions (which break ribs and cause extensive bruising) and intubation (which the patient may never come off of again). A DNR status is often suggested if a person has an irreversible health condition and resuscitation would be considered futile. Resuscitation status is not written in stone, and if your parents are healthy now, then they might very well be a full code. It is a discussion that needs to be brought up several times in a lifetime. Remember, if you aren’t aware of your parents’ wishes now, then chances are you will be making the decision for them when it’s too late to know what they would want.

5) Funeral arrangements

This might sound like a morbid topic, but again, it is a necessary one. Start with the basics by asking your parents if they want to be buried or cremated. If they are to be buried, then you might even want to ask if they want an open-casket funeral. Chances are they’ve thought about it. Find out what kind of celebration of life/funeral they would like — small and closed to the public or large with everyone invited. They might even have a funeral home and burial plot picked out. Even if you think you have all the time in the world to discuss this with your parents, it’s important to not wait, as accidents and illnesses happen unexpectedly all the time.

Having these difficult discussions now will save a lot of turmoil, guilt, anger and even heartbreak later.

More on aging

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