Many of us have already had that call, the one from a sibling or the family doctor that changes everything —
“Mom’s fallen. She’s in the hospital with a broken hip.”
If you’ve ever been on the other end of that phone call, you know that what comes next is a long, and often difficult, road.
First comes the lengthy hospitalization for post-op recovery, then the slow journey back to normal in rehab. But what happens when mom doesn’t get back to full strength? Do you take on the role of caregiver yourself? How do you manage in-home care if you live hours or even states away?
These problems are, if you’re anything like us here at ERS, complicated by our desire to see our parents stay the decision-maker when it comes to their own healthcare choices. As adult children, we want our parents to have control over their own lives. We don’t ever want them to feel like we’re taking away their independence.
Luckily for those of you who haven’t already had that “what-am-I going-to-do-now moment,” you can start preparing now to ensure you’re ready to manage the aftermath of a life-changing call from the emergency room. The key is to work with your loved one to plan for potential problems and make decisions in advance of a stressful event or health crisis.
Take the First Step: Talk It Out
Unfortunately, many grown children aren’t talking to their aging parents about the decisions they’ve made about their health, finances, legal paperwork and end of life preferences.
We would prefer to think that our parents will stay healthy forever, and we put off those difficult conversations indefinitely. But as adult children, these are some of the most important conversations we can have with our parents, while they still can make their preferences known.
If you’re struggling with how to begin the discussion, here are some steps you can take.
1. Understand that the conversation is not about you.
While this discussion will prepare you to act on your elderly loved one’s behalf — to make better decisions — it is not primarily about your own comfort. It is, instead, about making sure your parents’ choices are respected, even if they aren't able to express their opinion.
2. When you approach your parents or loved ones, make sure you are speaking with them, and not at them.
Remember, you are not telling your loved one what they should do, but are working together to establish a plan that ensures their choices will be honored after a life-changing event.
Gathering basic information is a good place to start.
It’s a good idea to gather 3 sets of files:
- health information (insurance cards, medical history, blood type, physician contact numbers);
- financial records (bank and investment account information); and
- legal documents (social security cards, wills, and any related paperwork, such as advanced directives).
Be sure to store these records in a safe place that's easily accessible to appropriate family members and advisors.
3. Do talk about money
Finances are an uncomfortable, but necessary, topic of discussion if you find yourself responsible for arranging in-home care, or a transition into a skilled nursing care facility.
You need to know what future care options are feasible and how your parents would prefer their funds be managed.
If you want to make sure you’re able to access funds to cover hospitalization fees or arrange for in-home care, ask if your parents would consider transitioning their accounts into joint accounts. If you aren’t sure about best practices for planning future care, consult a geriatric care manager or other senior care experts such as a retirement planner, eldercare attorney, or your local community agency, such as Council on Aging.
By taking the time to have a thoughtful discussion with your parents, you will be assured that their wishes will be respected, no matter what unforeseen events arise.
(This blog has been updated from a 2013 post.)