It's Never Too Early or too Late to Start The Conversation:
Talking to Your Parents About Their Changing Needs
A boomer exercise for growing old
- Make a list of the 10 most important activities in your life
- Imagine you are 65 and eliminate 3
- Imagine you are 75; eliminate 3 more
- Imagine you are 85; eliminate 3 more
- Imagine your reaction
If you don't want to talk about this, or
if you can't, maybe you could just pray for a tornado to hit your parents the day before they get sick."
- Shlomo F. Kreitzer, a retired psychologist.
There are some things in life we don't really want to think
about; consequently we don't plan for them. One of those "things"
is aging parents and their changing needs.
Whether we want to face it or not, eldercare is already a
reality for the first wave of Canada's 10 million baby boomers;
too many of us, however, are utterly unprepared to assume
the role of caregiver for aging parents.
Things You Should Know
- 40% of people over 30 in Canada provide care now for one or
more elder members of their family
- Adult children often spend more years providing care for a parent
18 years than raising a child 17 years
- These individuals mainly women are also employees
who spend 8+ hours per week on the phone dealing with eldercare
issues; caregiving can easily require more than 25 hours
per week (US Study)
either the adult child or parent has to start
the conversation about a parent's plans for the future. Otherwise
a crisis will do it for you.
When you are in crisis, you are under tremendous stress to
make decisions too quickly, with too little information.
Every family will face the situation differently; there is
no "right" way. The only constant will be the tremendous emotional
Denial that nothing will change that parents will ably
continue on forever can lead to countless problems,
stresses and ultimately to caregiver illness or depression.
The key to success is communication; start the conversation
and try to keep it going no matter how difficult or painful.
It's worth it in the long run.
How do I know
if my parent(s) needs help?
On the outside things may appear normal. However some changes
may be hard to see. A basic rule of thumb applies; if you
are worried about a parent, they may need help. What kind
of help may be determined by using the following capability
Specialists in gerontology evaluate seniors' abilities using
2 lists; the first is Activities of Daily Living or ADLs.
If your parent has problems with any of the following, the
need for outside help or other intervention is obvious and
- Getting in and out of bed
The second list is Instrumental or Intermediate Activities
of Daily Living or IADLs. It is more difficult to know if
an individual has problems with any of these unless you live
with them. This is where your observation on visits can be
- Using the telephone
- Preparing meals
- Doing laundry
- Using transportation
- Managing medications
- Managing finances
Even though help may be needed in one or more of the above,
a senior can still remain independent.
Things to Remember
- Your parents want to maintain their independence
- They want and need to maintain their dignity and respect
- Don't try to impose your way of life or values on them
- Research your options home care, home modification, day programs
- Become familiar with new devices or technologies that may help a parent
Things to Look for When You Visit
- Your relative is consistently dressed improperly
- A lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Overdue bills, unopened mail when you visit
- Laundry piling up
- Cigarette burns on the furniture
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bruises or other signs of trauma (from falls)
- Blackened pots (stove problems) or too empty. Too full refrigerator (improper eating habits)
- Unusual behavior i.e. not telling you things, becoming anti-social or reclusive
The list above does not go into cognitive symptoms which may
indicate a more serious problem. If you see things like a
parent getting lost while out driving or walking, severe personality
changes, lost sense of time or consistent confusion see medical
According to Mary Pipher, author of Another Country: Navigating
the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders, "we need to make
the old understand that they can be helped without being infantilized,
that the help comes from respect and gratitude rather than
from pity or a sense of obligation."
Talk to your parent as you would want to be talked to. Ask
specific questions such as what did you do today? how are
you feeling? to try and determine how the person is doing.
If he is upset, ask quietly what is wrong. Listen patiently.
Silence can speak louder than words.