With complex family situations and individual needs that are unique in every situation, there is no “Cookie Cutter” answer. There are, however, lots of resources available in today’s “Cyber café” of expert advice. And, the fact that you have made observations and want to explore “next steps” puts you ahead of the curve with your peers whose parents are in similar circumstances. Denial and avoidance are strong forces in any potentially uncomfortable conversation. When the potential for conflict and raging family dynamics are added to the picture, it is really no surprise that so many families simply choose to “wait for the crisis”. Unfortunately, doing so puts them at a big disadvantage as options become limited and acting in crisis is never ideal.

So now that you’ve decided to at least think about being proactive, where do you start? One good first step is to take a serious look at your role. What does your parent need from you? A common miss-step at this early stage is jumping in with directives and mandates too quickly. Sometimes we try to take charge and fix things when all we really needed to do was to start the conversation, offer help with resources, and encourage our parents to begin planning for their future. Encourage them to think about “aging deliberately”. Liz Taylor, author of Aging Parents: Starting the Conversation, coined this term because she feels most of us age accidentally, without planning or forethought. If we start the conversation early enough AND if our parents are willing to take action, the need for us to jump to “parenting our parents” can be postponed and minimized while our parents take steps which allow them to have the control they so desperately want and deserve.

But what if that ship has sailed? What if the opportunity for pre-planning seems to have been missed and it appears that our “assistance” will need to be more “hands-on”? When this is the case, you can (and should) still include your parent in the plans that need to be made. Plan your conversation ahead of time; seek insight from friends, neighbors and other family members who may have a different perspective or additional information. Start the conversation slowly, introducing the idea in one conversation, allowing time for your parent to process and think about it on their own, and then return to the conversation at a later time. Make use of the tips available from others, but always consider how your unique situation and family dynamics will factor into your plan to proceed. If the first attempt isn’t well received, don’t give up. Re-evaluate and make a plan to try again. Remember that being proactive in helping your parents to plan for their future is not for the faint of heart. But it is worth the effort. And remember, you are ahead of the curve for even trying. Bravo! The following are some online resources you might find helpful:

http://www.havingtheconversation.com/

http://www.comfortkeepers.com/office-357/family-education-center/starting-the-conversation

http://www.caregiverstress.com/family-communication/40-70/

Submitted by Janelle Johnson, Memory Care Specialist