Kim Elliott, RN, Expert on Healthy Aging

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16 December 2017

Bravery Earns Purple Heart

By Kim Estes Elliott

Brookdale's SVP of Clinical Services

Sometimes conversations about planning for a senior’s later years seem so difficult they are delayed until a medical crisis forces the family’s hand. At this point, not only have the parents suffered great emotional and physical stress but their adult children have been through the wringer as well.

That’s why it is better to have a plan in place before an emergency forces to you make big decisions quickly. Decisions about health, senior living and money should be thoughtful and deliberate, not dealt with on the fly when you’re worried and anxious.  Having worked with seniors and families throughout my career, I’ve come up with recommendations on how to handle this sensitive process. Before talking to your parents, make sure you understand what advanced care directives are so you walk into the conversation prepared and educated.

Tips for Talking to Your Parents

For starters, avoid rushing into the conversation or catching your parents off guard. Let them know ahead of time that you want to discuss something important. The first conversation should take place at your parents’ home, or another place where they feel comfortable. Consider whether you want other family members, an advisor or a good family friend to attend. Sometimes it can be easier to hear concerns from someone outside of the family.

As I implied, you will probably have more than one conversation. Even if your parents are open to talking about their future, a discussion that touches on health concerns, senior living, financial power of attorney, wills and end of life care would overwhelm anyone.

Avoid Putting Your Parents on the Defensive

If your parents are more hesitant, start with the least emotional topics to establish comfort. Always open the conversation with “I” statements, instead of “you” statements. Saying something like, “You can’t manage your finances anymore,” would only get your parents’ hackles up. Here’s a more loving and thoughtful way of introducing the subject: “My friend and her parents are reviewing their personal and financial plans; can we begin to do that too? I love you and want to be able to help you for as long as possible.”                 

After you’ve said your piece, take the time to listen to your parents and find out their underlying fears. Ask open-ended questions (e.g., Can you tell me why you don’t you want to consider senior living?). Try to come up with solutions that will address their fears. For example, if they are afraid of being lonely, see if you can arrange lunch for you and your parents at a senior living community, allowing them the chance to observe the social atmosphere.   

Always show up prepared, knowing ahead of time which issues you would like to discuss, but be careful you don’t appear too businesslike too soon. Although you will want to see certain documents, like long-term care insurance or their will if they have created one, your parents might get turned off if you request these items right off the bat.

Furthermore, if your mother or father seem stressed and anxious, it might be better to keep the meeting short and reschedule. Although you do need to get clear about important issues, don’t do this at the expense of the relationship.  Above all else, strive to keep discussions from becoming tense or heated, and aim to be persistent without being pushy.

Do what you can to help your parents move forward in planning for the future, but ultimately you must respect your parents’ preferences and allow them to maintain their dignity. Show your empathy and patience instead of disapproval – after all, as much as this matters to you, these big decisions about their lives matter even more to them.

As Brookdale’s senior vice president of clinical services, Kim oversees its health and wellness programs and works to inspire more nurses to dedicate their careers to seniors. Kim serves on the Clinical Quality Executive Roundtable for Argentum, the provider trade organization, where she advocates for exceptional care and innovation throughout senior living.


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