People are living much longer and active lives, but aging is inevitable. Planning for aging should be seen as a natural and positive step. I have written previously about the importance of being a Pro-Choice Senior who takes control over their own healthcare, financial, legal and other decisions. In reality, many adults put off planning out of fear or anxiety. As a result, these issues may be left to children to determine by imposing their decisions on parents, or handling problems as they occur. This situation in turn can cause family conflict and stress. Some of the difficulties that can arise are driven home by a recent article.
In Don’t Parent Me: What Aging Parents Want Their Adult Children To Know, the author says that while children may mean well, offers of help can often come off as “offensive and infantilizing” to the parent. Whether it is volunteering to help with errands or repairs or trying to convince them to move to a senior community, many older adults want to remain as independent as possible while they can and resent attempts by family members to take control of their lives. The author stresses that families need to show respect – ask seniors whether they want help and how they feel about whatever issue is being discussed as opposed to pressuring them to do things their way.
In my practice, I deal with many families concerned about a loved one and I encourage communication between family members. From the parents’ perspective, they should be proactive in planning rather than leaving it to their children to manage when something happens to the parent. They are not being considerate of their children by avoiding these issues. All adults should have a healthcare proxy, power of attorney, will and other estate planning documents that set forth their wishes. In addition, they should consider practical issues such as where they see themselves living as they get older, who they think they can rely on to help them, and what funds they have set aside for long-term care.
Family members should have several meetings. Children should stress that they want parents to make decisions and not take those away. Parents should think about and explain their wishes to family members and discuss various scenarios. For example, while a parent may envision that a child will be their caregiver, the child may not have the time, money, or skills to provide that care.
Children should be willing to discuss compromises and find the least intrusive methods for safeguarding their loved one. It is important to be respectful of parents’ wishes and keep conflicts focused on matters that implicate their health and safety. If conflicts are anticipated either between parents and children or among siblings, an attorney can assist as an elder law mediator.
I would also add that when chronic illness becomes part of the senior’s reality, there is a particular need for assistance in navigating the medical frontier. Often, patients and their family find themselves in a foreign culture not knowing how to traverse the terrain. Professional assistance for the necessary medical advocacy is crucial for both the patient and their family members.
By making appropriate plans, parents can take some of the worry and burden from children. In turn, children don’t have to wonder what parents would want and don’t have to feel as if they need to step in because their parents are ill-prepared for aging.
If you need assistance with planning, contact me for a consultation.