Tips for Caring for Aging Parents

May 21, 2024

Thanks to healthier lifestyles and advances in modern medicine, the worldwide population over age 65 is growing. In the past decade, the population of Americans aged 65 and older has grown by 38% and is expected to reach 82 million by 2050. As our nation ages, many Americans are turning their attention to caring for aging parents.

One of the most challenging conversations to have involves discussing medical care with an aging parent. It’s important to make sure to work collaboratively between parent and child so that the best outcome can be reached. There is a risk that emotions hinder the exchange of vital information and the making of critical decisions, so everyone’s voice needs to be heard at the table.

When talking to a parent about future care, it's best to have a strategy. Here are some key concepts to consider:

Gather Essential Information

Knowing ahead of time what information you need can help keep the conversation on track. Start with this checklist:

  • Primary physician
  • Specialists
  • Medications and supplements
  • Allergies to medication

Also, locate important medical and estate documents, such as:

  • Medicare card
  • Insurance information
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare
  • Will, living will, trusts, and other documents

Be Detailed and Sensitive

Collecting all critical information can save your family time and avoid future emotional discussions. While checklists can help, remember that this conversation could mark a significant change in your parent's life. This could be a transition point from provider to working collaboratively with children for their best care. Be prepared for emotions and the unexpected. Be kind and remember that everyone is on the “same team”, while still aiming to gather all necessary information.

Maintain Open Communication

This conversation is likely the first of many about your parent's future healthcare needs. It may be the start of an ongoing dialogue. Consider involving other siblings in the discussions. Often one sibling takes a lead role, but all family members should be honest about their feelings, situations, and needs.

Start Early

The earlier you begin to discuss important issues, the more likely you will have all the information you need if a crisis were to arise. How will you know when a parent needs your help? Look for signs such as weight fluctuations, failure to take medication, new health concerns, and diminished social interaction. These can all be warning signs that additional care may soon be necessary.

By treating your parent with love and respect—and taking the necessary steps toward open communication—you will be able to provide the help needed as they navigate the latter years of their lives.