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Caring for your aging parents

At some point, many parents find themselves needing to care for their children as well as their own parents. This can be a difficult situation that requires some tough talks and serious decisions. Being prepared can make the entire process a little easier.

woman with daughter and mom

Lori Hogan, co-founder of Home Instead Senior Care, has extensive experience guiding people through “tough talks” with aging parents. Her advice may help you navigate these sometimes difficult waters responsibly and with sensitivity.

The right time

The aging process can be sneaky. One day, your parents seem vibrant and young — and the next, you notice some subtle but alarming signs of declining health. What do you do?

“It’s best to talk with aging parents sooner rather than later when an issue has reached crisis proportions,” says Hogan. “The Home Instead Senior Care organization developed a public education program several years ago called the 40-70 Rule, the idea being that if you’re 40 and your parent is 70, it’s time to start talking about these sensitive issues that affect so many families. But it’s never too late to begin an important conversation.”

What makes it tough?

Caring for aging parents is a bit of a role reversal, making the tough conversation even tougher. “Nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. have a major communication obstacle with their parents that stems from continuation of the parent-child role,” says Hogan.

“It can be difficult to get the conversation going because the child is still in a child rather than adult role with their parent. Mom and Dad still view that adult child as a kid. Because of obstacles such as this, adult children may wait until an emergency or crisis happens before talking to parents. Seniors also may avoid talking about those topics that they feel will threaten their independence and their ability to stay at home.”

Your approach

Hogan provides the following tips on approach this tough talk with your parents:

  • Discuss what you’ve observed and ask your parents what they think is going on.
  • If your parents acknowledge a situation, ask what they think would be good solutions.
  • If your parents don’t recognize a problem, use concrete examples to support your case.
  • Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence for the older person.
  • Look for answers that optimize strengths and compensate for problems. For instance, if your loved ones need assistance at home, look for tools that can help them maintain their strengths.
  • When you approach older loved ones, make sure you are speaking to them in a respectful way. Remember you are talking to an adult, not a child. Patronizing speech or baby talk will put seniors on the defensive and convey a lack of respect for them.
  • Don’t reach a conclusion from a single observation and try to decide the best solution based on that limited knowledge.

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