Helping an Aging Parent Plan for the Future
By Sandy John, Contributing Reporter

As the population of the United States continues to gray, more and more adult children find themselves doing what author and geriatric specialist Jane R. Yousey calls the "delicate dance" with their aging parents. The "dance" takes place when the adult child realizes a parent needs help with one or more aspects of his life, and the child must carefully approach the parent to find the best solution.

In many families, it's difficult for parents and grown children to talk about issues such as the parent's health problem, financial situation, or whether the parent needs assistance with basic tasks. The scenario becomes even harder when the parent is worried about losing independence or embarrassed about not being able to do things like she used to.

When an adult child wants to discuss the parent's problem and what the future may hold, "the approach is critical," said Yousey, a Connecticut-based geriatric occupational therapist and aging coach. "You must respect the parent's right to make decisions for herself."

The first trick is knowing when to step in. An adult child will often simply have a "sense that something in changing in the parent," Yousey explained. It could be small signs, such as bounced checks or Mom frequently forgetting to take medications. It could be something dramatic, such as a serious fall or auto accident.

There's a good chance many adults will face the issue of helping an aging parent. About 2 million people turn 65 each year, and nearly a third of adults over age 65 report a limitation on their activities due to a chronic condition.

When you decide it's time to step in, you shouldn't simply take over. Yousey suggests following these moves:

  • Choose a time and place, and let the parent know in advance what you want to discuss: "Dad, I'd like to talk about some concerns I have about your finances."
  • Begin on a positive note, by focusing on what's working in the parent's situation, such as she's eating well or maintaining a good social life.
  • Identify the area you're concerned about. Be aware the senior may disagree or have a different perspective on the issue.
  • Stick to the topic. If you want to talk about finances, don't bring up that fender-bender the parent recently had.

It may be helpful to have a neutral third party, such as a family friend or clergy person on hand, someone both parties can relate to, Yousey said. This might help the parent feel an ally is present.

When you're talking about finances, Yousey suggests asking the senior for his vision of the future: "What would you like the next ten years to be like?" Once the senior has described that vision, you can follow up with questions on financial planning. Here's where to ask "what ifs," such as "what if you have a stroke -- do you have something in place to assure you get the best care available," said Yousey.

At this point, the family may decide it needs more information on possible solutions. They may turn to a professional, such as a financial planner or insurance professional. Yousey has trained insurance professionals on how to deal with seniors, and she believes it is important the family find a professional who will "be patient with both sides and share knowledge," not pressure anyone to buy anything.

"A professional can help a senior see a long-term care policy as a way to ensure his quality of life and his ability to be taken care of. Seniors fear they will outlive their money, and that's a real block to buying insurance," Yousey said. Seniors think about the money going to premiums, rather than viewing long-term care insurance as "investing in their own future," she said.

Seniors need time to process information, said Yousey, whose book for adult children of aging parents was recently published. ("A Field Guide for Families: How to Assist Your Older Loved Ones When You Don't Live Next Door," published by Life Design Publishing, is available through major online book sellers and at bookstores.) You may want to set a time to reconvene the discussion after your parent has had time to think.

In the end, the senior needs to make his own choices, Yousey said, unless a condition such as dementia affects his judgment. "Be open-minded about several possible solutions. If it has to be your way, you're setting yourself up for conflict," she said. Concentrate on the goal, such as your mother's safety or financial security.

Of course, the "delicate dance" doesn't end with one conversation or one decision. The adult child may have to continue to monitor the situation or step in again should that "sense that something has changed" return.

In addition to her book, Yousey maintains a website (www.lifedesigncoach.com) which serves as a resource to help seniors and their families adjust to the challenges of aging.

2002 IdentityWEB, Inc.


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