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When Should You Discuss Senior Care Options with Parents?

Michele Teter - October 12, 2015 10:07 AM

Our Graying Population

The American population is aging. According to the Administration on Aging (AoA), as of 2013, there were 44.7 million Americans older than age 65. That represents just over 14 percent of the U.S. population, or about one out of every seven Americans. This means that millions of seniors and their families are faced with some difficult questions. Is it safe for mom to live alone? Is dad taking good care of himself? Can I handle an emergency by myself, here with no one else in the house?

If these questions sound familiar, it's time to have a frank conversation about senior care options. While it can be a difficult discussion, it's simply too important a subject to ignore.

When to Start the Conversation

Older people value their independence. They want to stay in their homes as long as they can. There may come a time, however, when they need help. If a family has been able to talk openly about this eventuality and consider what care options are available, they will be better able to make good decisions when the time comes. Here are some of the signs that it's time to start the conversation about senior care:

•    Household management: Watch for signs that household chores are being neglected. Is the mail left unattended in the mailbox? Is there outdated food in the kitchen cupboards? Is the laundry piling up? These can all be signs that an older person is no longer able to take care of all of their daily needs.

•    Problems with everyday finances: Unpaid bills. Notices from the IRS. Money or bank statements that cannot be accounted for. These can all be signs that an older person is not handling his/her finances well.

•    Unusual behavior: Does your elderly loved one seem unusually depressed? Does he/she get angry over seemingly small things or blame others for items that have gone missing? These can be signs of a diminished mental capacity. Other early warning signs of dementia, according to the Mayo Clinic website, include memory loss, problems communicating, “difficulty with planning and organizing," and personality changes.

•    Worsening health: Even seniors who retain their mental acuity may need senior care because of health concerns. Is your loved one struggling with handling medications, doctor visits or blood monitoring? These may be signs that he/she needs extra help.

How to Start the Conversation

Talking about senior care options can be difficult. Older people can see it as an attempt to rob them of their independence. Their grown children may be fearful of facing the fact that their once-vital parents need help with simple daily activities. If your family is trying to find ways to start this important conversation, consider these tips:

•    Start early: People don't make their best decisions when stressed or anxious. It is best to discuss long-term care options well before they're needed.

•    Choose a comfortable time and place: Make sure that you have plenty of time for this conversation and that everyone is comfortable. Pick a morning when there are no other pressing obligations, for instance, and everyone concerned can sit around the table and have an unhurried exchange of ideas.

•    Keep an open mind: Both seniors and their families are likely to have strong opinions about senior care or assisted living. Both parties should be respectful of the different opinions being expressed and take the time to consider them all carefully.

•    Be patient: This is a sensitive and emotional topic. You will need to give everyone involved time to digest the ideas that are brought up and mull over all the options. If tempers flare or if you hit an impasse, lay the conversation aside for a while and come back to it in a few days or even weeks.

Know Your Options

Senior care encompasses a wide continuum of care, ranging from something as simple as a visiting aide who will help with bathing, dressing and small household chores, all the way to skilled nursing centers. Educate yourself on what choices are available in your area, how much each one costs, and what financial help is available — long-term care insurance or veterans' programs, for example. Having a clear understanding of what senior care choices are available for you or your loved one will help you narrow and focus your decision-making process.
Michele Teter is a founder of Alliance Homecare. She is now the Director of Patient Services and focuses on providing the highest level of healthcare to both clients and their families.

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