A century ago, just one in 25 Americans was over 65. Today, it’s one in five. As a result, seniors and their adult children are experiencing dynamic changes in their relationships and responsibilities that are as challenging as they are unsettling.
However, if both parties understand what to expect and how to communicate, they can move forward into a world of rapidly changing circumstances with greater ease, security, and peace of mind.
Demographics today require that adult children be able to recognize the signs that their parents need help. They need to understand their parents’ legal and financial circumstances. They also need to respect their parents’ wishes and preferences for care while being well versed in the many care options available to them.
Finally, they need to realize and discover these things while treating their parents with great deference and the utmost respect. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either. The key to success in the evolving relationship between aging seniors and their adult children is effective communication.
The first hurdle adult children face is determining whether or not a parent needs help. Seniors want their independence and will even hide weaknesses from their children, but many signs help is needed are obvious. Are the house and yard being kept up? What about oral and physical hygiene? Weight loss or gain? Tickets or auto accidents? Have they fallen? Are they keeping track of their medications?
Pre-crisis planning is much easier than post-crisis management, especially when it comes to legal and financial affairs. The "Greatest Generation" believes legal and financial matters should be kept private. Unfortunately, these hard-held beliefs greatly conflict with today’s legal and financial environment. Adult children need to know where to find their parents’ papers before a crisis occurs. They also need to make sure that their parents have a will, a living will, a power of attorney for financial affairs, as well as a power of attorney for health care. They also need to know that, should long-term care become necessary, how their parents intend to pay for it.
Today’s seniors are often reluctant to discuss their wishes for long-term and end-of-life care because doing so is admitting mortality. However, by not having frank discussions with their adult children about preferences for long-term and end-of-life care, they are missing out on an opportunity to control their lives in their final years. Do they wish to stay in their homes? At what cost? Would they like to live with their children? Is that practical? Is there a particular senior care community they prefer above others? Adult children need to know their parents’ desires while their parents are still able to communicate them clearly. Understanding that effective communication is the key to overcoming the aforementioned challenges, how do we start the necessary conversations? How do we phrase our questions and comments? How do we respectfully disagree? And how do we let our parents maintain a feeling of control over something that is increasingly more difficult to control?
There are many ways that adult children can open the conversation with their parents. A newspaper article. The health crisis of a family friend. Or just listening when a parent mentions a particular struggle or concern. By asking questions that are open-ended and by offering options instead of advice, adult children can show their love and concern without taking away the right of the senior parent to choose. And if you disagree with your parent’s choices, do so respectfully. Only when there are signs of dementia or confusion should a parents’ wishes be called to order, and then only if the safety of the parent or others is in question.