Talk to Aging Parents about Dying

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It’s often difficult to face that our parents – those who took care of us – may need help in decision-making and caring for themselves, as they grow older.


Talking with aging parents about legal, financial, and long-term care issues can be uncomfortable. Families often do not discuss end-of-life issues, like what preparations are in place, if any, for when the inevitable happens.
These strategies can help you start a dialogue about End-of-Life planning with your parents.

Start Early

While your parents are in good health, find an opportunity to start talking about end-of-life issues. A newspaper article, or a loved one’s illness, can provide an opening. It’s much more difficult to address challenging issues after your parents become ill or are unable to make their own decisions.

Explain Your Purpose

Tell your parents that you love them, are concerned for them, and that you want to offer support as they age. This will help them be more receptive to your concerns.

Provide Information

You can serve as an important resource if your parents are unaware of services and options available to them – like benefits to help pay for prescription drugs, health care, or utilities. Go to: www.benefitscheckup.org for information on assistance for people over 55.

Use Good Communication Skills

Offer choices, rather than advice. Ask your parents about their wishes. Express concerns rather than telling them what to do. Listen. Don’t be afraid of silence. Ask open-ended questions that foster discussion, rather than, “Yes” or “No” answers.

Include Family

Gather support from relatives if their opinions won’t under­mine your goals.

Agree to Disagree

You may believe you know what should be done to serve your parent’s best interests. However, resist bullying your way through the discussion if your parents disagree. Their wishes should prevail unless their health or safety is in question.

Ask About Records

Ask your parents where insurance policies, wills, health care directives, and banking records are located. Ask whom you should contact if they are in an accident, or are incapacitated.

Offer Reassurance

Your parents have lived longer than you. They may have sacrificed to provide you the life you have. While old age can be a rewarding time, it can also be a time of loss—of loved ones, health, and independence. Reassure your parents that you will be there for them as they age.

Respect Your Parents’ Rights

Your parents have a right to make their own decisions. You may need to balance their independence with their safety, but try not to remove their sense of control over their lives.

Re-Evaluate if Needed

If the conversation isn’t productive, assess what isn’t working so you can develop a better plan. You may not be communicating the way you hoped, or have enough information about issues that should be addressed. It may help your parents to speak with a third party, like a geriatric care specialist, financial planner, or lawyer, if they need expert assistance.

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