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How do we have tough conversations with aging loved ones?

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How do we have tough conversations with aging loved ones?


Special promotional content provided by Wesley Woods Senior Living. 

By Terry Barcroft, President & CEO of Wesley Woods Senior Living 

Growing older isn’t a topic that our society gets excited to talk about. It can be uncomfortable to discuss health care preferences, financial planning, downsizing, and other aging-related issues. But it’s important that we know our loved ones’ long-term plans and goals so we can support them in having the best possible quality of life at every age.

As you’re planning to see loved ones over the holidays, don’t pass up the opportunity to have these conversations. Although it may feel challenging, it will be even more challenging if your loved one suddenly becomes ill or has an accident—or worse—and you’re left to guess their wishes because you didn’t have these discussions. 

It’s natural to feel anxious, but how you approach these conversations is often as important as the discussions themselves. Here are a few tips to get started:

Timing is important.

This is not a conversation to have at the dinner table with all your extended family, or when stressed or tired. Arrange to meet with your loved one privately at a convenient and comfortable time and location. 

Ask questions and listen. 

You probably have assumptions and opinions about what plans your loved one has made—or hasn’t made—to prepare for their future goals and needs. You may have valid concerns but before you raise them, ask questions so that you have a clear understanding of their hopes and desires. A few examples include: What activities are important for you to continue regardless of your age? What keeps you up at night about the future? Is there anything about your current living situation that will not support you in the future—for example, stairs or location? Do you have an updated will, power of attorney, or advance directives in place? How comfortable are you that your finances will provide adequate support for the future? Are there specific wishes or preferences you have concerning end-of-life care? 

Express your support. 

Fearing a loss of independence is a common reason why people avoid discussions about getting older. Set a positive tone by approaching your loved one with a genuine interest in respecting their goals and wishes, and assure them that their physical, emotional, and social wellbeing is your top priority. Convey that the purpose of these conversations is so that you can honor their preferences to the best of your ability.

Set realistic expectations. 

Be honest about your availability and limitations for what you and your family can provide in terms of time, caregiving, and financial support. Set realistic expectations now so that you can assess gaps for where additional support may be needed. 

Explore options for additional support and resources.

Aside from more obvious people in your support network like siblings or other family members, explore community and government programs and resources that might assist with various needs as your loved one ages. Review insurance policies or other benefits that may help with future expenses. You may also want to consult with professionals in long-term care, financial and estate planning, or other areas. Aging-related needs are expensive; the sooner you and your loved one can assess their financial situation, the more time you’ll have to research and connect with resources to potentially fill gaps.

Develop action items.

Getting the conversation started is a great step, but set a goal to walk away with specific action items. For example, gather and review relevant documentation, identify aging services resources, or schedule a meeting with a financial planner.  

Keep the conversations going. 

Having these conversations regularly will relieve the overwhelming pressure to figure everything out at once. These conversations should be ongoing and revisited, especially as circumstances change. The holidays can be a good opportunity to encourage candid discussions that will lay a foundation for future conversations and action items. 

Be compassionate. 

It may seem cliché but the most important—and compassionate—way to approach your loved one is to follow the golden rule of treating them like you’d want to be treated if the roles were reversed. 

Having these discussions with aging loved ones is also an opportunity to prepare for your own long-term goals and share them with your children and those you love. It’s never too early to plan for something so important.  By being proactive, it will bring you—and those you love—a great deal of relief and peace. 

Wesley Woods Senior Living is a nonprofit senior care provider operating 10 communities across North Georgia, including Wesley Woods Towers near Decatur. The Towers—owned by Emory and managed by Wesley Woods Senior Living—is an independent-living, residential retirement community for individuals 62 years of age older. Visit www.wesleywoods.org for more information.