A new year – 2020 – brings the opportunity to take another look at the reality of how your elders are doing. Enhancing your view of their reality – 20/20 views of the elders in your life.
What is the most frequently heard answer to my question “How are your parents doing?” It is “My parents are doing great now.” I understand the need to believe that your parents are doing well. I’ve been there and I’ve said that too.
I’m sure in many ways it’s true too. Your parents are doing fine right now. Maybe they still live by themselves, perhaps in the house where you grew up. Maybe they still drive, or volunteer, or host the holiday meal.
It’s not that you need to admit that they aren’t doing well; it’s that you should be aware that they might need your help sometime and you should talk to them about it. “Sometime” might be in the next decade, next year, or next week.
Take off the rose colored glasses and view your parents through the 20/20 lens of reality.
- What are they having a hard time doing?
- What do they struggle with?
- What could happen if that situation or condition worsens?
- What does one parent do that the other one doesn’t ever do?
With your reality glasses on, let’s take a look.
If your elders have had joint replacements and live in a house with 4 levels of stairs, perhaps you could discuss how to remodel or install a device that helps them maneuver better. Do they have tripping hazards everywhere (rugs, cords, step downs)?
Is the bathroom tub or shower a fall waiting to happen? Can you install a few grab bars and some non-slip stickers on the bottom of the tub?
Say one parent always handles the bills and the money. You could help the other parent learn how to be a back-up. This would be a good way to make sure one doesn’t leave the other in the dark, should something happen. Make sure the one parent who doesn’t handle financial stuff is a Joint Owner of the accounts and not just an Authorized User (if they truly co-own their finances).
Does one parent do all the cooking? Could you help the other one learn enough to be familiar with the kitchen? Maybe having input on their favorite meals would be a good start. Going grocery shopping together may be a way of engaging the non-cooking elder.
If your parent is single, do they insist on keeping all of their financial dealings secret? Perhaps you could explain that, if you are listed as an authorized user on the bank account, you would be able to help out if they ever needed you to pay a bill or talk to the bank. Would they be willing to share where they keep their passwords, in case of emergency?
Are you or one of your siblings listed as their Power of Attorney? Did they give a copy to you or your sibling? Could they introduce you to their attorney or investment advisor?
Have you asked them if they’ve listed you as an emergency contact on their medical forms or with their neighbors? If you get a call one day from some random person claiming to live next to your parent who says they are worried because they haven’t seen your parent in the last several days, would you know who they were?
Do you have a spare key to your elder’s home? Could you get in if there was an emergency or could you help someone get to your parent if you wanted to go but were not available?
It’s not that they aren’t “doing great”, it’s that you should be thinking of ways to keep them doing well, to help ease their struggles and help them maintain their current level of ability as long as possible.
Start a conversation. Talk about wishes and preferences. Focus on a common goal of helping them be and do their best for as long as they can – by being smart, planning ahead and having open, honest conversations.
The Conversation Project has a set of helpful guides to start a conversation with your elders about their wishes and preferences for the future. They offer a free starter kit as well as other kits about talking with a doctor (alongside your elder) and about being a healthcare proxy (someone speaking on the elder’s behalf, usually as Power of Attorney). Go to https://TheConversationProject.org for more info.
It’s a new year and new decade. A chance for you to see how your elders are doing with a 20/20 lens of reality. The goal is to stay ahead of the elder emergencies – keeping your stress down and your elders’ quality of life up.
Happy New View!