Conversing with your aging parents about their care won’t be easy. In fact, for this reason, you might find procrastination a temptation. But, if you’re interested in avoiding crisis situations through preparation, you can’t neglect opportunities to talk with them — ahead of time — and determine what will best suit their future needs.
Though the big talk is one verbal communication approach, chats, or informal talks, are better options for effectively learning more about your parents’ desires, without bombarding them with more than one issue at once. “Difficult discussions are hard to take in and can be better digested in small bites, limited to only a few major points,” says Lea C. Watson, MD, MPH, a Colorado-based, board-certified adult and geriatric psychiatrist.
One thing you shouldn’t do while chatting, however, is to make assumptions. Dr. Watson advises: “Don’t assume your aging parents need your help. They may already have a great plan in place. You may just want to ask what it is and how you can help them achieve their goals of aging and dying well.”
Instead, to learn the wants — and possibly, the prepared plans — of your parents in a non-threatening way, you can ask open-ended questions, such as the following ones, provided by Dr. Watson:
- Have you thought about what you want when you get to a point that you need help as you get older?
- What things have you thought about with regard to your health that you might want or not want while you are still alive? Do you have, or have you considered creating an advanced directives document?
There’s a benefit of multiple informal talks compared to one major, stress-filled conversation, too: reduced stress. Timing is everything when discussing parental care topics. And chatting, before a crisis occurs, allows you to calmly enter these conversations and listen to your parents. The likely result? They’ll more easily share their concerns and ideas, and you’ll gain insight into their thought processes.
As you make plans to talk to your parents about their care, remember your two communication options: one big talk or multiple conversations. Multiple conversations, or chats, over time, help you work with your parents to achieve their desired care solutions, with less stress. And, when you and your parents have these conversations early, you’ll be in a better position to honor their wishes when the time arises.