When is the best time to begin a conversation about the realities of aging ?
Many people cringe at the very idea of opening such a conversation. For some reason it is hard to face the fact that the years ahead may bring changes in aspects of life such as relationships, health, financial status or mental acuity. For some, the opening words stick in the throat and the subject just keeps being put off to another day. This often occurs when a son or daughter is wondering how to prepare for the day when a parent may need help; either in a physical sense or with decision-making on some level.
One of the reasons ”the conversation” seems daunting is that there is a tendency to assume how someone else is thinking or feeling; “ Oh, Dad won’t ever admit he might become frail one day” or “Mary is so determined to stay in control that she won’t let anyone share in her business.”
The development of a strategic plan is the vital purpose of starting this conversation. It is unfair and frankly, frightening, to be trying to make sound decisions about care, money or housing, for example, in the midst of a crisis when no one actually knows for sure what the wishes of the affected person are. Sometimes an opening line which seems less invasive than a direct, “So, what do you want us to do if you ever have a stroke?” is to use a more light-hearted approach, “ Mum, if you ever need some help because of a stroke or something, who DON’T you want caring for you?” It is surprising how often this fear of who is going to be too close for comfort is a main reason an aging person is reluctant to participate in the planning process.
Of course, it is not only one’s parents requiring a plan to ease the fall-out from an unexpected event; single people, spouses, parents of a disabled or addicted person or a friend or associate share the same need for a plan.