by Kim Barnes

My father-in-law had a daily routine in place. Every morning, he took my mother-in-law to breakfast, and around noon, he would take her to lunch. Every evening, he would take her to dinner. That’s the daily schedule you need when your spouse has Alzheimer’s, and you don’t cook.

The meals weren’t that expensive, but the caregiving was starting to wear on my father-in-law, my husband and his sister. So, his kids told him that it would be better for both of them if they moved to independent living.

Have you ever had a conversation with a child about doing what’s right, and they seem to agree, but you can tell they have other thoughts? That was my father-in-law with this conversation. He agreed something should be done, but hearing they should move made him picture the nursing home where my husband’s grandfather lived in his final months in the 80s.

We have to keep things like that in mind when having tough conversations with our parents: Remember their point of view and their history. 

Start the discussion early about where they’d like to live and what they can afford. Sometimes you need a little help. My mom was single and alone and stuck in her house after eye surgery kept her from driving anymore.

“Mom,” I said, “you ought to think about moving into an independent living place. You’d love it with all of the activities.”

“Nope,” she answered. “I won’t leave this house until I die.”

I had tried to have the tough conversation but made no progress. Then, my uncle stepped in. He convinced his sister to look at an independent living place. The next thing we know, she’s on the phone with me.

“Next time you come visit, I’ll show you where I’m going to move in April,” she said. I was shocked, but also pleasantly surprised. It’s not always that easy.

People in our private Facebook Group, Parenting Aging Parents, have parents in their 80s who shouldn’t live alone anymore but can’t afford independent living or don’t want to live with their children. That means the living decisions are usually made in a crisis situation. 

Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” His crisis situation involved separating from England, but try making big decisions when you have a parent about to be released from the hospital when they still need help.

What type of care will they need? How do we pay for it? Will insurance help? How do I pay the monthly bills? Where will they live? Planning ahead of time makes decision-making in times of crisis a little easier. And the conversations should be easier as well.

Some of the tough topics to tackle include:

  1. Housing

Talk to your parents about where they want to live as they get older. Are they determined to stay at home? Do they expect to live with you or another of their children? Have they thought about a retirement community? What are they open to if circumstances change?

  1. Finances

What can they afford? Do they have savings? Do they have debt? What do they get from retirement funds, pensions and investments? It may be easy for you to find a nice independent living place for them that only costs $4000 a month. Then your dad tells you they only receive $2700 a month in Social Security, and they have no savings to add to that.

We’ve had people in our Facebook community post questions about using their own 401K savings to pay for their parents to live – a generous offer, but it may put them in the same situation as their parents someday.

Compare it to having a child go to college. That’s not a subject that you wait until after high school graduation to broach. My husband and I started saving for college when the kids were toddlers. These days, they start talking about what you need academically for college when still in middle school, and most of high school consists of kids taking tests and looking at what schools they can get into or afford.

You need similar preparation for your parents. Get help if needed, and find out if they qualify for an aging “scholarship” like Medicaid.

  1. Legal

This seems to be the toughest subject to talk about for some people because wills and powers of attorney seem to imply death and losing control. “I’m not signing any Power of Attorney because you’ll just take all of my money!”

That shouldn’t be the case, and you might need a lawyer to help explain things to your parent. Help them understand how a POA is enacted, and let them know that not having a will is going to make things more difficult for you and their other children. Make sure it’s a two-sided conversation so they have some “ownership.”

Remember that they’ve been the parent in this relationship for decades. If they feel like they’re losing control, they may decide to be stubborn and selfish.

My father-in-law agreed to look at a few independent living places, and he was surprised at what he saw. Far from the nursing home visions he had pictured, he and my mother-in-law moved into a place that had three meals a day in the dining room and lots of activities during the day. About six weeks after the move, he called my husband and said, “Son, this is the best move we’ve ever made. I’m glad we did this.”

It all started with a tough conversation.

After 30 years as television journalists, Kim and Mike Barnes have a new mission: to broadcast a message of support and to undercut the confusion surrounding care for aging parents. Through their free Facebook Group, expert interviews, and guide for gathering essential information, Parenting Aging Parents provides access to the knowledge desperately needed for adult children.

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