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Breaking the Silence: Discussing Sensitive Topics with Your Aging Loved Ones

Does having a conversation with your aging parents about their physical, mental and financial wellness make you uncomfortable? If you said ‘yes,’ you are certainly not alone!

It isn’t uncommon to avoid topics, such as health care proxies, living wills or retirement accounts because these topics were—and still are—considered taboo to discuss with someone other than a spouse. This is especially true of today’s seniors.

Starting the conversation—breaking the silence—is never easy. Here are tips to help you discuss sensitive, yet important, topics with your aging loved ones:

Plan now! The best time to talk about sensitive issues is before a crisis occurs. Think about what questions you have regarding your parents’ future. Ask relatives or siblings to join in on the conversation. Set a date and time. Then, pick a place that everyone will be comfortable meeting.

Gather resources. Now that you have your questions, find the answers. Your local Area Agency on Aging offers information on aging services, such as nutrition, transportation, health insurance counseling, and more. Local senior communities are also great sources of information.  Check websites, call and schedule an appointment. They can often help you identify local resources based on your needs.

Address your parents with respect. This is a tried-and-true approach. As long as your parents are healthy and living safely, they have a right to make their own decisions. Try not to take away their sense of control over their own lives.

Listen with empathy. You might find some topics more difficult than others to discuss with your loved one. Keep an open mind and listen to opposing viewpoints. Remember, change can be challenging. You may be interested in nurturing their well-being, whereas, they are interested in maintaining their current lifestyle.

Be patient. You may need more than one day to talk about and plan your parents’ future.

Sometimes important conversations won’t begin as planned, so keep an open line of communication with your loved ones. Ultimately it’s up to you to break the silence. Use age-related experiences of older relatives and their friends to discuss your concerns, but don’t threaten or coerce. Plans can be revised and updated over time or as their health changes.

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