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Caring For Older Adult Parents: The Really Important Questions You Need To Ask Your Parents

By , 11:04 pm on

A recent trip home during the holidays may have revealed your parents’ are not as young as they used to be. Even though this is perfectly natural, and to be expected, talking about their changing needs with them, might be difficult. If possible, speak with your parents about their desires and expectations before a crisis arises, so all of you are better prepared.

An opportunity to discuss the issues might naturally pop up, such as when a parent mentions age-related changes, such as having trouble rising from a chair or fears about forgetfulness.  It could also arise when s/he discovers health issues.  You might bring up the talk if a parent is suddenly interested in passing on the family silver to you.

Have an agenda for the discussion, and enter into it gently.  Begin on enjoyable and neutral topics and guide the discussion to more personal ones, like what they enjoy about their friends and hobbies.  Shift to serious issues with an appeal for help, “I am wondering if you can help me understand what you want if you’re suddenly needing care.  I don’t think this will be an issue for a long time; I just know someone who found herself the hospital when her dad needed a pace-maker and didn’t know if he wanted it or not.” Ask these questions over time, not in one mammoth grilling session.

1. What are your life goals now?

(Want to understand what is essential to their mental well-being.  What is important on a deep level—answer the “if I can’t _______, then life would have no meaning.)

2.Who are your doctors?

(Good time to get a HIPAA release form signed, so you can talk to their doctors and see medical files.  You’ll need one for every provider.  For a HIPAA form, click here.

3. What medication do you take?

(This list may be very long; include all prescription, vitamins, over the counter meds, and any supplements.  If you parents are computer savvy, create a file they can store on Dropbox and update whenever their meds change.  Be sure you and other siblings have access to this file for an emergency.)

4. Have you decided where you want to live?

(Sometimes a sudden change in a parent’s health can lead adult children to panic and try to move parents. It is best to know what their opinions are when no crisis is in progress. This is a great precursor to a discussion about finances necessary for long-term care.)

5. What do you want me to do in the situation you can’t make your own decisions about your health?

(A living will is a legal document that detailsa person’s end-of-life wishes.  Nebraska has a very limited form, which can be downloaded here.If you want more details covered, speak with an elder law attorney.

6. What final arrangements have you considered?

Going to a funeral with your parents can be a good springboard for a conversation on this subject.  Try to get past the ghoulish flavor and focus on the need for practicality.  It is also best to have as many siblings present as possible, so you’ll all understand what you parents want.)

7. Where are your financial papers stored?

  (The main thing to tell you parents is you motive here is to be able to help them if they need you, not pry into their financial situation.  In this day of passwords and email linked accounts, you’ll need all that information, too, for every account.

8. How do you want your possessions distributed?

(The primary function of a will is to distribute a person’s possessions in the way they intend.  Without one, the state will distribute them along the guide lines the state has determined, no matter what the survivors believe the deceased’s intentions were.)

Keep electronic copies of any documents your parents create as a result of your questions, or of the legal documents they already have in place so these are available to you in case of an emergency.  A secure, on-line file storage, such as Drop-box is the place I recommend to clients.  Keep copies of the living will and emergency medical information where you can access them, and not in the safe deposit box, which is usually unavailable nights and weekends.)

Inspired by an article in Family Circle Magazine.

Lee Nyberg is a Certified Senior Advisor.  She seeks to educate clients and their families on aging well and making informed choices about aging issues.  Her company, Home Care Assistance, helps the clients who chose to age in place at home, to do so with safety, independence, and peace of mind.  She can be reached at 402-763-9140.  Visit for more information.