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Family & Relationships

You Asked, Get Old Answered: How Do I Talk to Mom about Aging and the Future?

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Dear Get Old;

My mom is getting older and more forgetful, but for now, she’s still independent. How do I even begin to look into her options for the future (in home care, senior facilities, etc.) so we’re ready to help when she needs it?

Signed,

Concerned Adult Child (CAC)

Dear CAC,

We shared your question with Kate Krajci, who is a licensed clinical social worker and founder and therapist with Life Changes Counseling & Care Planning in Chicago. As an expert in mental health and aging as well as family caregiving, she had some great advice to offer. Here’s what she suggested:

(The following has been edited for clarity and length).

Kate writes:

We can’t prevent aging, and we have no idea what that process will bring for people. It depends on the person’s physical condition, their cognitive health and their financial outlook. But at the same time, we can at least ask some guiding questions, such as, what are their values? What’s important to them? How might my mom want the family to make a decision for her if something happens and she can’t make that decision herself?

I like to encourage families to think about these conversations as preventative. Too often, we’re acting out of a crisis situation, either after a fall or sudden hospitalization. Still, this can be a hard talk to initiate, and timing is important. A lot of older adults may be likely to have a conversation about powers of attorney for health care, because these are topics that come up frequently in a doctor’s office. If your mom brings that up, it’s a great time to segue into talking about what she’d like her path to be as she gets older.  

You brought up some challenges with your mom’s memory, so I want to address that first. While there are some normal, age-related changes to memory and thinking, there are other aspects of forgetfulness and managing day-to-day living that may fall outside of what is typical for people who are older. I would encourage you to talk with her doctor about the forgetfulness, so he or she can do a screening and understand whether it’s something that needs extra attention.

When talking more generally about the future for your mom, keep in mind that the tone you set matters, and it’s important to communicate that this is a collaborative conversation. As we get older, we’re already experiencing a lot of losses. When an adult child either tells a parent what the child wants them to do, or what they “need” to do, it’s another loss; a loss of control. We really want the older person to be able to control as much of the process as possible and feel comfortable along the way.

In part, that means asking questions about your mom’s wants, her concerns and her own suggestions for adapting with age. You can ask things like: “What are your thoughts about in-home care?” “What would be some signs to you that you need to think about changing your driving routine, and what can we do to help you transition? For example, could a friend or family member drive you places? Would you want to use a ride-share or taxi service? Is public transportation an option?”

Same thing with home care. “If it got really hard for you to keep up the house, would you want to hire someone to come in and help with chores? Or do you think you might want to consider moving to a place where there’s less upkeep?” It’s also helpful to talk about who might be able to help out with chores or driving as needed, whether it’s friends, family, a faith-based community, a non-profit in the area or other organizations or services. If your conversation deepens to include formal services for aging adults, a good place to consult is Eldercare Locator, a free-to-use service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that can share resources and help determine whether a person may be eligible to participate in any governmental programs.

For many families, the holidays may be a good time to broach these topics, if everyone is together. While the talks can be challenging, it’s important to remember an open dialogue may benefit you and your mom in the years to come.  

Do you have questions Ask Get Old can answer? Email them to [email protected]

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