The concept ‘circle-of-life’ means that at some stage, many of us will need to assist our parents as they get older. The trouble is, how do you broach the topic without causing fear, offence, or inferring your beloved Mum or Dad are becoming less independent. Potential future health concerns, the challenges of ageing and the prospects of needing extra help are all subjects that nobody wants to face as they move into the twilight years. So, we tend to leave it for another day.
The dilemma with holding off is that it is not just one conversation that you’ll need to have. We know from experience the reality is you will likely need to have a series of talks, potentially with various members of the family, before decisions come about.
So how do you start the conversation with your Mum or Dad?
Our advice is to do your homework before you begin. Start by thinking about what concerns you have and write them down. For example, does their home have many trip hazards? Are they taking their medication regularly? Are they able to get to appointments or pay their bills on time, or at all? Are shopping and cooking becoming more difficult – perhaps you’ve noticed them losing weight or skipping meals? And don’t forget their social needs. Are they involved in their community, do they see friends and family, or are they becoming more isolated as they age? Not forgetting, if they live alone, how would you know if something was wrong?
It’s time to do your research, again, before you commence discussions.
We recommend you educate yourself on the options available in their local area. When you do this, don’t just consider their health status now, think about what options they may need if their mobility diminishes, affecting their ability to cook, clean, shower even or if their medical needs increase and they need specialist nursing care to come to them. Or if they have been diagnosed with Dementia or are showing symptoms, what dementia-specific care options are available now and in the future?
Consider what role family and friends can have in providing support or if services such as government-funded or privately funded home care are applicable. You may want to visit the government website MyAgedCare.com.au and bring yourself up to speed on eligibility and how to apply for funding – remembering, there are sometimes long waiting periods. While it’s challenging to think about, families should also consider what options they have should a crisis such as a fall or chronic illness arise. Is moving into a nursing home close to family possible or is relocating out of their local area a concern?
Once you know about the options available, begin the discussions with your Mum or Dad but don’t rush them. Although you might be ready to make a decision, they may not. Ask how you can help make planning for their future easier. Perhaps you can make phone calls on their behalf, be there if care providers come to the home to discuss options or make appointments and take them to visit potential retirement living villages, aged care providers or nursing homes. This is a process that everyone can get involved in.
Wait, there’s more.
Don’t forget about the benefits of estate planning, in particular having discussions regarding the appointment of an advocate/s. Your Mum or Dad may want to consider giving someone they trust an Enduring Power of Attorney to act on their behalf if they become unable to manage their property and financial decisions. Additionally, appointing someone they entrust with Enduring Guardianship who is able to make lifestyle, health and medical decisions for them when they are no longer able to do this for themselves due to illness or accident.
These can be awkward discussions to have, but your help can make all the difference to your parent’s ongoing quality of life as they age.