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Senior Living Checklist : How to start the conversation

This article is Sponsored by LifeStream Complete Senior Living

Hi I’m Jayme West from Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR. We’re talking about senior care for Mom and Dad.

I’m talking to Donna Taylor, she is the COO of Lifestream Complete Senior Living and she’s an expert on this topic. This is part one of our three-part Senior Living Checklist series, and right now we’re going to focus on how to start the conversation when you think a loved one might need a little more help. Why is it so hard to talk to our parents about this, Donna?

Starting the conversation…where to begin the discussion with Mom and Dad?

DONNA TAYLOR:
I think the first thing that we always have to think about is that we are still a child as far as our parents are concerned and we will always be their children. It’s my own personal belief that we should always continue to position ourselves. Yes we are adults and perhaps the roles are changing a little bit, but we still need to approach our parents (in the same way that we would when we were a child) with respect, honoring and valuing the things they have to say.

JAYME:
I know when we’ve talked before, you don’t really care for the phrase “put your parents in a home.” Tell me why.

DONNA:
In a perfect situation, Mom and Dad have been involved in making that decision to move someplace. When you say, “putting in the home,” none of us would like that. I don’t want to be ”put” somewhere. I want to go to the places I choose to go to, and not go to the places I don’t want to go to. I think our parents deserve that same level of respect and honoring of their choices.

What signs should I be looking for? How will I know when it’s time?

JAYME:
So how do we know it’s time to have this conversation? Should you start picking up on little things or is it looking for more major things that they might need help with?

DONNA:
I think it could be both of those circumstances. I think there are times that we’re going to notice things going on in the home. Like, if the house is less “kept” than it once was. Or, if Mom and Dad are less “kept” than they once were. Like if your Mom always got dressed up go out and now she’s not doing that as much anymore. And perhaps if they are starting to forget little things like “oh, I didn’t remember to pick up my prescription today.” Going to their house and noticing that there is food left in the refrigerator, so it doesn’t look like Mom or Dad are eating the way that they should be. Those are the things that you might start to pick up on that starts to give us the intuition that “something’s a little bit different with Mom or Dad.”

JAYME:
And it can be serious, if medications start to get mixed up, or they forget to take medications as well…

DONNA:
Well, those are the scarier situations and sometimes we find ourselves in a situation of crisis like that. That medication got messed up and now there’s been a fall and now we’re getting a call from the hospital saying “your Mom is here at the hospital.” So all of a sudden we’re cast into this situation of having to make a decision as opposed to being able to be thoughtful and methodical about it.

What Does Mom and Dad’s Next Chapter Look Like?

JAYME:
Right, planning ahead. Because you don’t want to have to get that call and have to make a decision right now, right? So, now that we’ve decided that maybe it’s time to start talking to Mom and Dad about the next chapter in their lives…how do you start that conversation? Why is it so hard?

DONNA:
It’s hard because we’re the kid! But the way I always suggest starting the conversation by asking “What do you want? What does the next thing look like?” And that’s a great jumping off point to start talking about the plans and what they already have in place and what we need to get in place in order to make Mom or Dad’s wishes come to fruition.

What is the dignity of risk?

JAYME:
What if your parent or loved one is at a state where they really aren’t making good decisions for themselves? Do you still need to have this conversation?

DONNA:
Absolutely. We love to talk a lot about this idea of the dignity of risk. All of us have risk, there is risk in life. You and I took a risk when we walked outside our door today and got in our car to drive to work. Our parents still get that choice as well to make good decisions, to make bad decisions, or to make no decisions. Now, we still bear a responsibility as their children to help walk with them through that. So sometimes we do have to steer the conversation a little bit toward, “I’m concerned about the fact you’re not getting three meals a day any longer, so can we talk about what kind of support we may need to bring in to make sure you are getting the food you need to eat.” And starting to walk our way thought that process instead of making the big jumps that you hope to avoid by making a good plan.

JAYME:
So it doesn’t necessarily have to be the one “big talk” all at one time. You can gradually work your way into this conversation over multiple encounters, right?

How do I manage personal freedoms and expectations?

DONNA:
Absolutely. I think that the best gift that a senior parent gives to their kids is to already have that plan in place. If I can speak to the seniors, what I would say is put your plan in place and make sure that you’ve lined up those things for your kids to make your wishes possible. Things like power of attorney documents and your financial plan, (because your financials are going to be a big question down the line), your wills and insurance policies…tuck all that into a notebook and tell your kids where it is, so if they have to start helping you with this decision process all of that’s already taken care of.

JAYME:
I happen to have a family member who maybe shouldn’t be driving much longer. And even that is a difficult conversation to start with somebody who is very proud and thinks their abilities are still great, but we’re noticing a difference. Even starting a conversation about one aspect of aging or perhaps giving up that type of freedom is difficult enough. So I can’t imagine trying to broach the subject of actually giving up driving possibly and your home where you may have lived for 30-40 years or longer. I think that’s great advice to start little by little, just baby steps, into this conversation of “what is the next chapter?”

DONNA:
Choosing to talk about driving would probably be your hardest point to start so I wouldn’t start the conversation with driving because that is one the of things that limits people’s freedoms the most. If you’re going to start with driving, (which sometimes you have to because there is a risk related to other people, not just to Mom or Dad), I would also make sure that you have a plan. Because that’s the biggest issue is “Ok, so you’re going to take my car away, so now what am I going to do to get where I need to go?” Make sure that you’ve got a plan in place to support them if you’re going to take the car away.

How do we make the choice together as a family?

JAYME:
Right, because you don’t want them stuck at their house all the time. Or you’ve got to have somebody available to give them rides wherever they need to go.

DONNA:
I know for myself when that happened in my family that it wasn’t an option for me to become the transportation but I still had to have the conversation and say, “Dad, I care too much about you and I care too much about Mom for you all to be still behind the wheel and have it not be safe.” He looked at me and said, “Then how in the world are we going to go to the doctor and to the grocery store and to church?” And so, that became my job along with my siblings to figure out a way forward that we could put those support in place but also make sure (at least in that respect) that we had created some safety.

Prior Planning Prevents Problems

JAYME:
So before you broach any of these topics with your parents, your advice is to have a plan?

DONNA:
Have an approach and if you need to talk with your siblings about it, make sure that (to whatever degree possible because family dynamics are challenging) everybody is marching on the same page. But I would never put myself in the position of the siblings all making the decision and then the siblings going to Mom and Dad with the decision, fait accompli. Coming to them and saying, “we’ve decided that you are going to be moving into a retirement community…” None of us would like that.

JAYME:
Well I am really looking forward to talking to you about all of those options that are out there, once those decisions are made. We will be doing that in Part 2 of the Lifestream: Senior Living Checklist.

 

About the Organization:
LifeStream Complete Senior Living has a 40-year legacy of serving Seniors. As a faith-based, nonprofit organization, they offer a complete spectrum of accommodations and services for the Senior adult community in the greater Phoenix area. LifeStream has four unique communities across the valley, with a variety of living arrangements and services including Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, Long-term Skilled Nursing and Short-term Rehabilitation.