Crucial Conversations: How to Talk With An Aging Parent

Crucial Conversations: How to Talk With An Aging ParentAs parents age, they may start to show signs of physical or mental decline. The children may worry about the parent’s ability to drive or to live independently. If you find yourself worrying about an aging loved one, it is important to recognize their dignity and to show respect for their circumstances. Any conversation regarding your parent’s life should be about concern for their welfare, not about control.  

Before the parent/child conversation takes place, it is best if the children are in agreement as much as possible regarding what the concerns are. If the conversation turns into a shouting match, this could make things more stressful for the parent. Respecting the feelings of everyone involved goes a long way towards family harmony. An example of over control I’ve seen, is when a child goes through the parent’s mail—when the parents are capable of going through this private correspondence. If the child is concerned about mental capacity, a possible solution is to have the child added as third-party notification if a bill is not paid.

It can also be helpful to research potential options that could minimize the disruption to the parent’s life. For example, the parent may be able to stay in the home if a housekeeper and/or part time aide is hired and safety features are added to the home.

For the parent, the first step is to recognize the reality of the situation. Nothing will change by stubbornly denying that help is needed. It can be difficult sometimes, of course, to recognize that your children are now adults and it may feel like a role reversal to have a conversation about your ability to live independently, but in order to ease your children’s concerns regarding a potential future health crisis, consider the following steps:

  • Take a defensive driving test if your driving ability is in question;
  • Agree to services such as Meals on Wheels if your ability to live independently is a concern;
  • Make changes to your home, including installing handicap accessible bathrooms;
  • Bring in safety consultants, if needed, to suggest helpful upgrades, such as lighting or different flooring;
  • Share financial and medical information in order to avoid a future burden on your children;
  • Sign a healthcare proxy and power of attorney, thus appointing an agent to handle matters in the event that you are unable.

It is important that the parent’s independence be encouraged and facilitated as much as possible. If the family feels having a conversation is impossible, or if a conversation goes poorly, consider bringing in an independent third party, known as a mediator, to try and reach an agreement. If you would like to further explore the benefits of mediation in elder law cases, please contact us.

Robert Shaw

Robert W. Shaw, Esq.
(914) 328-1222

E-mail Bob


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Robert W. Shaw is licensed in New York.