“If you don’t want to talk about this, or if you can’t, maybe you could just pray for a tornado to hit your parents the day before they get sick.” Shlomo F. Kreitzer, a retired psychologist.
Rarely do I meet people who want to talk about planning for a loved one’s aging future. Rather, I meet then when they are in crisis, when they are already under tremendous stress to make decisions too quickly, with too little information.
I know…I was one of those adult daughters who thought my father would go on forever functioning independently. How wrong I was and how we both suffered as a result of my denial. This denial can lead to countless problems, stresses and ultimately to caregiver illness or depression.
Somebody – either the adult child or parent – has to start the conversation about a parent’s plans for the future. Otherwise a crisis will do it for you.
Caregiving can start gradually or it can start suddenly with a desperate phone call in the night. However it starts, in all probability you won’t be ready.
So…how can you begin to prepare?
- Expect and accept that your parents will grow old. Aging is not a disease; it is part of the life cycle. But remember the 40/70 Rule: When adult children are about 40, and parents about 70 years, it’s time to start talking.
- Ask parents what they want as they age. If they want to stay in their own home, should they be looking at home renovations to make it easier to go up/down stairs or use the bathroom if a wheelchair is or may be required?
- Understand the critical role of legal and financial planning. Start to gather information about your parents’ financial security; learn where original documents are stored. Ensure your parents have prepared necessary documents such as Wills, Advance Directives and Powers of Attorney. Be prepared for some emotional encounters but don’t give up.
- If you have siblings, talk about how you plan to divide responsibility for your parents’ well-being. Another way to start the conversation is to call a family meeting. This way everyone – parents and adult children – will understand the challenges; all will have a chance to participate in the solutions. If a sibling is out of town, try to set up a teleconference. The only reason a parent should be excluded from such a meeting is if he is too mentally impaired to understand or contribute and would impair any progress.
- If a parent suffers from a particular disease—heart or stroke, arthritis, diabetes, dementia—learn all you can now about the disease and what a caregiver can expect as the disease progresses.
- Learn about the health care system in your parents’ province; understand what alternate accommodations exist, how home care operates, what social services are available. Understand what the government does/does not pay for.
- Talk to your peers about how they are facing their caregiving challenges, the problems they have encountered and solutions they have found.
- Talk to your employer about your EAP program or other benefits that may assist family caregivers.
- Finally, take an objective look at yourself. Are you prepared to be a caregiver? How will you accomplish this, along side your other roles as a business professional, parent, spouse?
- Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep i.e. ‘You can always live with us’ or ‘I’ll never put you in a home.’
- Don’t concentrate on what your parents can’t do; focus on maximizing what they can do.
- Become educated and aware.
- Understand and accept your feelings.
- Talk with others in your situation.
- Empower your parents.
- Involve your parents.
Think ahead and prepare yourself and your parents for what will happen, so when it’s all over you can honestly say: “I did the best that I could.”
Open communication with your parents is the most powerful tool you have to help ensure you and your parents age gracefully together. It’s never too early – or too late – to begin this critical conversation.