Tips for talking to your loved one about extra help as they get older

The first step to openly discuss touchy subjects is to learn about your aging loved one's feelings related to aging

My Mom’s birthday is coming up next month and I’ve realized she’s a year shy of turning 70 years old.

It actually alarmed me for the very reason I cause alarm to my friends and clients when I spout off, “If your parents are 70 and over, you need to start talking about future care options.”

For good measure, I usually add a true story about a family thrown into crisis when a parent had a stroke and how much stress it caused.

It won’t surprise you then when I tell you what I did next. Yup, you guessed it.

I call my Mom on the phone and tell her my about shocking revelation about how old she is getting, which of course is met by an eerie silence on the other end of line.

I began to back peddle to no avail and my Mom says, “Was there any other reason you were calling or was it to simply let me know how old I’m getting?”

At which point, I break into a fit of giggles followed by my Mom’s laughter.

Figuring out how to talk to our aging loved ones about life changes and transitions is a common challenge for families. At times, communication can also be touchy and our aging loved one may not welcome the idea of help or suggestions.

There is one thing most experts agree on — imposing your way of thinking will yield undesirable results.

In not so diplomatic terms, you’ll tick off your loved ones and they’ll either stop talking to you altogether or dig their heels in further. If they do comply with your wishes it may cause bitterness, resentment or complete dependence on you and other family members.

The first step to openly discuss touchy subjects is to learn about your aging loved one’s feelings related to aging, as well as their wishes and desires, as they move forward.

Here are a few ideas or statements to get you started:

• Will they want or expect a lot of involvement from their children?

• At what point will they ask for help? Or will it be too difficult or uncomfortable for them to seek assistance?

• How do they feel about having a housekeeper or a private care provider coming into their home?

• Do they need help with anything such as preparing meals, running errands or home maintenance?

• How do they feel about you checking that bills are being paid?

• If at some point they are no longer able to live at home, what kind of living arrangements would they prefer? Living with you? Building a home or moving to be closer to you or other family? Move to an assisted living facility? Residential care?

• Have you made any long-term plans? If yes, could you share those plans with us?

• Have you taken steps in the area of health care and financial planning (e.g. long-term health-care insurance, advanced health-care directive including a DNR [do not resuscitate], power of attorney)?

Remember, just because you haven’t reached an agreement at the end of Round One doesn’t mean the conversation wasn’t productive.

Each time you broach a topic, you are allowing everyone to clarify their wishes, needs and concerns. Your aging loved one hears your concerns and it opens the door for future conversations when something changes down the road.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.