How to Talk to Your Parents About Aging Safely in Their Homes

Updated for December 2020

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open between you and your parents as you both get older. It’s not that they don’t realize they’re aging, but they may not be comfortable reaching out for help from their children. A good idea is to make it a two-way conversation, so they can voice their concerns and opinions on what to do to keep safe as they age.

“Take a step back and consider how your parent must feel as she faces her diminished capacities” – Francine Lederer, psychotherapist (source)

It’s not necessarily a conversation anyone looks forward to, but it’s important to have. By approaching it openly and honestly, it allows the focus to be on providing the best situation possible for your parents. It’s not about who is in charge of decision-making or forcing anyone into a situation they don’t want. It’s about mutual respect where the other person feels understood and there can be a plan in place everyone is on board with.

Handle with Care

If you’re not quite sure how to approach the topic with your parents, here are a few tips on how to guide the conversation. Make sure you cover all major points, but allow for enough room for other issues to be brought up and discussed.

Ask your parents what they want. Think about when you were a kid. Did you ever like to be told what to do, even if it was something you may have later agreed was the right choice? It’s not too different now as an adult. Everyone wants to feel they have the freedom to have an opinion. Ask your parents directly what they’d like as they age in terms of care. The conversation may be one that happens every few years as a “check-in” for your parents. What they want or need at 65 may not be the same as when they are 70. Consider your parents’ wishes first and decide the best ways to honor them.

Execute proper legal documents. As our parents get older, the last thing we want to think about is their slipping memory or their slowing bodies. There’s no real way to prepare for it emotionally, but we can help them prepare for it logically. One important step is to appoint a power of attorney for health and finances.  As stated by Susan Howson, Director and Portfolio Manager of Mack Research Capital Corp, “As the population continues to age, adult children need to play a critical role in handling their elderly parents’ Financial and health-related needs” (The Globe and Mail), and understand the families’ role in the process.

It doesn’t sound easy, and in some cases it may seem premature, but again, you want to discuss your parents’ requests when they are still clear and truly cognizant of what they want. With regards to power of attorney, it needs to be clarified whether this person has power of attorney for everything or only for individual situations like medical care or real estate decisions.

Listen. Often, parents will want to discuss these matters with their children, but may not know how to bring it up. Listen for cues that could lead to a bigger discussion. Don’t dismiss one-off comments as not being serious or think there’s plenty of time to plan. The unexpected is what will make us wish we had planned sooner.

Have a plan. What to do as a parent ages can be an overwhelming topic. Having a mini-plan in place will help the conversation feel more structured and lead to a better resolution. If your parent wants to stay independent in their home, but requires assistance, consider hiring a part-time caregiver or making home improvements to address these needs.

Bathing, for example, is a routine that your parent may not want a caregiver’s help with. A walk-in bath can help keep them safe and comfortable, while respecting their privacy, as they enter and exit the bath. These smaller transitions may be easier to handle than an abrupt move from the house they know and love to assisted living or long-term care.

Adjusting to Life’s Changes

Considering a parent’s happiness and comfort is the best approach; you want to be a collaborator with them, rather than taking over and making all the decisions. The role reversal, when the child becomes more of the decision maker than the parent, can be difficult to adjust to. Being sensitive to this can help the conversation go much smoother.

Helping a loved one age safely can be a positive experience, and being prepared helps!  Afterall, it’s nice to have the opportunity to help those who have been a source of love and guidance throughout the years and give back to them when they need it most.