If you are like me and in the unfortunate position of living far away from your parents, when you do see them it is important to make the most of the precious limited time you have together.
Sometimes, important conversations about health, finances, estate planning, etc. are sidestepped. Many adult children avoid pushing these issues because their parents balk when the subjects are raised, or they are simply too uncomfortable thinking about the loss or incapacitation of their parents.
It’s 2016 and even if talking about these subjects makes you uncomfortable, these conversations need to happen.
Here is an example of why avoiding these conversations can be so costly:
My friend’s father is an overweight diabetic in his mid-50s with medical insurance. He does the minimum in terms of taking his insulin daily and seeing his doctor as prescribed. During a grooming appointment last Fall, he was cut semi-severely while the practitioner attempted to clip his toenails, (the bleeding didn’t stop for several days after the incident).
Despite his family’s concern that he see a doctor to make sure the cut was okay, he refused treatment. He said he was fine.
Less than two weeks later, he was hospitalized due to a high fever from an infection that set in, and several toes were amputated. Unfortunately despite removing them, he developed septicemia (blood poisoning) in his leg due to the infection and had to have his leg amputated to just above the knee.
But this isn’t the story…
At no time did he tell anyone in the family what was really going on or ask for help – even when directly asked. When said he was okay, they believed him. Even though they were skeptical, they didn’t press him. In general, her family doesn’t discuss their “medical issues”.
My friend firmly believes that if her father had gotten his toes looked at right after he was injured, this may have been avoided. And sadly she may be right.
Why don’t our parents want to talk about what is going on? Is it because it makes them think about their own mortality or are they simply at a point in their lives where they just want to “do what they want to do because they’ve earned it?”
Or could it be that they don’t want you to worry about them?
If you need to have these important conversations or want to be prepared for when the time comes, here are some tips to help get you started:
1. Make Your Approach. Be strategic. If you know your parent is resistant to having the conversation, you might need to make it a hypothetical one. For example ask, “Mom/Dad what would you want me to do if you had to be hospitalized for a while?” This may not be the exact conversation you want to have, but it is a start.
It opens the door to obtaining the information you really want in order to be a resource.
2. Ask the Right Questions. This list is not exhaustive, but provides ideas about a good place to start.
- Do you have any major health issues?
- Are your prescriptions current? Do you need any help remembering to take your meds?
- Do you want me to help upload these medical apps to your phone (i.e. reminders to take medicine, reminders of an upcoming appointment, transportation apps, etc.)?
- What kind of health insurance do you have? Are your premiums up to date?
- Do you know where your important forms are (i.e. in a safe deposit box, if so, where is the key, in a safe, etc.)?
- Do you have will or estate plans? If so, where are they? If not, do you need help figuring out where to start?
- Do you have long-term care insurance? If not, have you considered how you would pay for long-term care if it became necessary?
- Would you like help in filling out medical and insurance forms?
- How can I be the most useful to you?
- Do you want me to keep you company when you go to your next medical appointment?
3. Listen and Support. I have a tendency to want to problem solve and start “fixing” the situation when I talk to someone who is going through something. Even though this is a natural and loving response, it is not always a welcome one.
Listen to your parents and support what they want to do. If they solicit your ideas, share them. If not, depending upon the circumstances, you might need to keep them to yourself. Remember: A slow and measured approach is best, especially if they are resistant to the conversation.
As uncomfortable as these conversations can be, the time to have them is before there are problems. Sit down with your parents and map out plans while they are still healthy, self-sufficient, and living independently.
Remember: they have the right to determine how they want to live their lives but you also have the right to express your concerns, love, and support.
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