National Family Caregivers Month - Start the Conversation!
November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize all the hard work that our millions of caregivers do every day in this country. It is a time where we can focus on sharing information, tips, and resources about caregiving and caregiver wellness. It is also a time that I urge you to open the discussion with your family. It is no coincidence that National Family Caregivers Month falls in November which is the month of one of our most family-oriented holidays: Thanksgiving.
More families are together on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year, so it's the perfect time to start a family discussion about what to expect as our loved ones get older. With the entire family together face-to-face, you will have the perfect opportunity to get this sometimes difficult conversation going. Now, this conversation might not be easy for everyone and there are some things to think about ahead of time.
- I don't recommend springing this sometimes-heavy conversation on your family at the Thanksgiving dinner table in between "can you pass the potatoes" and "how's the new house coming along!" I highly recommend pre-scheduling the family meeting into your time together.
- This initial conversation doesn't necessarily have to get into the nitty gritty of how much they have in their retirement savings or if they have long term healthcare insurance (but you WILL have to ask these questions at some point); the tone of this first discussion should be about their desires, their concerns, their wishes, and how all the adult children might help facilitate those.
- Create an agenda so there is order to the conversation which can sometimes help take some of the emotion or tension out of a touchy conversation. However be prepared to veer off-topic since this is new territory for everyone and family members should all have the opportunity to be heard.
- While I recommend having an agenda to help guide you, this conversation might be emotional for your parents so I also suggest that you not only talk, but more importantly - listen. Don't only talk about logistics and "to-do's," ask your parents what they want... Ask them about things that will make them happy as they enter their later years. Do they want to keep working? Do they want to travel? Do they want to be involved in their grandchildren's lives? Inquire about their desires and dreams so that you can make a plan together that will make everyone feel happy and comfortable.
- Remind your family that this is a positive and pre-emptive conversation that if had early, can lead to less stressful and happier times all spent together later in life. Remind your parents that this type of planning is actually a gift they are giving to their children to help the family stay ahead of the game. If it helps, you can also let them know that your friends, colleagues, and other family members are also having this conversation so they don't feel like they are alone. Assure them that having this conversation doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with them, it is a pro-active discussion that everyone in America should be having with their families.
- Talk about the various needs that might arise for your parent or loved one and pre-determine who in the family might be best equipped to take on a particular area. This can help in the delineation of responsibilities among siblings as well as using everyones strengths. Here are some things to think about:
- Medical - Will your parent eventually need assistance with doctors appointments, medication management, or other healthcare needs?
- Household Management - If your parent becomes unable to cook, clean, or do the shopping, these tasks will need to be done for them regularly.
- Financial Management - Can your parent still handle the logistics of paying their bills? Are they able to check their mail everyday? These are questions you will want to ask long before they become a problem as unpaid bills can lead to debt that can eventually fall in your lap.
- Personal Care - If your parent becomes unable to bathe or dress themselves, someone will need to assist with these most personal tasks.
- Emotional Care/Companionship - This might seem obvious to some, but it is one of the most important factors of your parents healthy aging. This will become especially important if your parent is living alone. It can be helpful to set up a schedule so you know your parent is getting visits regularly from different loved ones.
- Remember - there is a lot to get through and this might not all happen in the first conversation. Keep a follow-up list and make note of who in the family could assume each responsibility. If you need to "sleep on it," that's fine. Step one is getting the conversation going.
There are many resources out there that can help you in this journey through caregiving. A Place For Mom is an organization I work with closely. Not only can they can help if you need to find a senior living community for your parent, but they also provide information and assistance regarding many aspects of caregiving. They offer a wealth of information on their website including these Tips for Having the Talk. AARP also has a great caregiving resource center where you will find a helpful guide to the beginning stages of caregiving called Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families. AARP is also recognizing National Caregivers Month.
I invite you to share with me any ideas or tips you have about starting the conversation with your family. I look forward to talking about caregiving throughout the month of November (and far beyond!).