By: Wendy Hoey Sheinberg, Partner, Rivkin Radler
Going home for the holidays means different things to different people. If your plans involve older relatives, the holidays can provide insights that can help avoid disaster. It can be hard to know when and how to raise delicate age-related issues with your parents. How do you tell the person who taught you everything that they may need help with something? It is not an easy set of conversations. The following tips will smooth the way.
Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. If your children needed to tell you that you need help, how would you want them to approach you? Change is not always welcome. Change can be scary. Almost no one likes giving up control. When opening a dialogue it is important to be calm. It is also important to make it clear that you are not taking over, so don’t draw lines in the sand.
Understand that no matter what you say or how you say it, your loved one will mostly likely hear that they are getting older. We are all getting older, but hearing it, and digesting what that means can be very difficult. While you may think the conversation is “just about driving” consider all of the parts of life that are affected by an inability to drive, including a loss of independence.
Yes, you are worried about your loved one, but this is not the time for an intervention. This is the time for sensitivity and allowing a person to retain their dignity. Surrounding someone with well-meaning relatives and forcing the person to listen to a well-rehearsed list of shortcomings is not the way to open this dialogue.
Timing Is Everything
Do not follow “Please pass the biscuits” with a “spontaneous” story about Mrs. Jones’ fall from the stepladder and “if only she had let her family help her.” Celebrations are for celebrating. Schedule a quiet lunch after the holidays to discuss the things you have noticed, and please do not do it during the holiday dinner.
Keep Calm, but Be Observant
Be mindful of changes to your older relatives’ appearance and behavior. Does mom look too thin; does her walk look labored? Does dad seem a bit confused and disinterested? Changes in weight, mobility, and demeanor can all have benign explanations. Sometimes, however, they can be warning signs of a serious issue.
Be Positively Proactive
Once the celebration is over, make a list of your concerns. What are priority items that should be addressed now? Knowing your family member, what approach do you think will work best? Initiate the conversation in a way that is consistent with your motivation, your love and concern. Take small steps. No one likes being hit with a two-by-four, and change takes time.
Planning for the Not-So-Distant Future
Once health and safety concerns are addressed, it is a good idea to meet with a compassionate elder law and estate planning attorney. A proper plan will help your loved one designate the right people to make health and financial decisions in the event they can no longer do so for themselves.