It’s not easy starting a conversation about long-term care with your aging loved one, and you might be tempted to put it off. But too often, putting it off results in not having the conversation at all and then, it becomes too late.
Remembering that at least 70 percent of people over 65 years old will require some form of assistance in their lifetime, all of us should be having a conversation about long-term care.
Here are 5 tips to help you start a conversation about long-term care:
1. Do your homework.
Before you attempt to talk to your loved one about long-term care, make sure you do your homework. Identify all of your concerns and write them down. Doing so will give you a reference point for the other half of your homework assignment: educate yourself.
Educating yourself includes exploring the different solutions for each of the concerns you wrote down. Gather resources you think will help you gain a deeper understanding of your options.
Here are a few of the benefits you will attain from doing your homework.
• You’ll be more confident when discussing the options.
• You increase your chances of selecting the best possible outcome for your loved one’s individual needs.
• Your loved one will view you as a trusted source.
• They may even come to you with their questions because they feel confident you will be able to provide them with answers.
2. Take advantage of every opportunity.
Taking advantage of every opportunity is a way to have the conversation without having to be the one to bring it up. This indirect approach is particularly useful if the topic is sensitive. Be aware that this method does not take the place of having the conversation; it is more about planting the seed for further conversation.
To clarify, here are a few scenarios where this is appropriate.
Someone brings up a senior care related topic. The next time someone brings up a topic relating to senior care while you and your loved one are present, make it a point to ask your loved one’s opinion.
The same principle applies to long-term care related topics in the news. The next time you hear/read about senior topics, ask for your loved one to provide some commentary on the topic. A few topics to be aware of include changes in the retirement age, health care policy changes, senior living, etc.
Taking advantage of every opportunity gives you a chance to ease into the conversation in preparation for a more in-depth discussion.
3. Approach with empathy.
Approaching the topic with empathy is about making an effort to understand your loved one. No one wants you to feel sorry for them; seniors are no different. Empathy does not come easy for everyone. Here are a few things you can say to show you care.
• “You’re very special to me.”
• “I worry that something may happen to you when you…”
• “I’ve been thinking about you lately.”
• “I love you and I want you to be happy.”
These phrases may help you find the right words to use, but it’s equally important to pay attention to how you say them. And always remember to listen to their response. Always remember to listen.
4. Be their partner, not their parent.
It is important to remember; you are their partner – not their parent. Nobody likes being told what to do, so don’t approach them with a pre-determined plan. Making important decisions about their lives prior to consulting with them will hardly ever go over well regardless of how good your intentions are. Doing so could place an unnecessary strain on your relationship and cause them to feel resentful towards you. Everyone, including your loved one has the inherent right to maintain control of their lives.
You and your loved one should work together. This means you will need to listen to what they want. You won’t agree on everything, but you need to remember it is their life you a dealing with.
If you want them to include you in their planning process, you should constantly emphasize they have the final say and ensure them you are only there to help. Your relationship should come before anything else.
5. Give them time to think.
Give your loved one time to think after the conversation. Don’t make them feel like they need to give you a definitive answer right away.
The goal is to have a productive conversation. Putting pressure on them could make them avoid the situation because they perceive it as too stressful. Instead, end the conversation with the intent to discuss the topic again.
“It’s never too late to start, but it’s always too late to wait” applies to more than just funding your retirement account; it’s also the best approach to take when discussing long-term care. Taking the time now to open the lines of communication will save you a lot of trouble down the road. I
f you wait until there is an emergency that requires you to make a serious decision, you will only contribute to the already stressful of the situation. And chances are, you will not be able to evaluate every option with the time it deserves. But, more importantly, it will take away from the quality of time you get to spend with your loved one.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to start talking about long-term care. Chances are if you’re thinking about it, your loved one is thinking about it too. They may even want to talk about it, but they don’t know where to start. Fortunately, you do. Have the conversation about long-term care with your senior loved one, today!
The Complete Eldercare Planner by Joy Loverde
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services