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Beginning a Long-Term Care Conversation with Your Parents

women talking to older man with her hand on his shoulder

A conversation about the what-ifs that come with aging is fraught with difficult emotions about disability, death, family and change.  It’s natural to struggle to initiate this critical conversation with your parents.  It may not be an easy conversation, but it’s a necessary one. 


How to Start


There’s no way to break the ice other than to just broach the subject: “Mom/Dad, I want to be there to help you as you get older.  I’m concerned that if there’s a medical crisis or some other sudden change, I won’t know how to help you.  Can we discuss some of the “what-ifs” so that I can understand what your desires are for care?  It would also help to understand more about your insurance, finances and estate plan.”


Reassure your parents that you respect their ability to manage their own affairs without your help. However, there may come a time when they need your help and circumstances won’t allow for them to tell you things you need to know in order to help them. Depending on their response, you may be able to begin asking your questions. Perhaps it would be best to schedule time to discuss your  questions later.  Be prepared to stop at any time, even if your parents are open to the discussion.  These things often take a few sessions.


The Most Important Things to Discuss


The following are important questions and issues may need to be covered in a series of conversations with your parent:


1. Ask about health insurance. Request their Medicare number and ask whether they have Medicare Par D, medigap co-insurance, long-term care insurance and VA benefits.

2. What doctors do they see regularly? Get their names and contact information.

3. Are they taking medications? Take a picture of the bottles – it has a wealth of information, including the medication name, prescribing physician and dosages.

4. Ask about other insurance policies. This includes life insurance, auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance.

5. What legal documents do they have in place?  A financial power of attorney (sometimes called a durable general power of attorney) and a healthcare directive are key documents to have in place so that someone can make decisions for your parent when they are unable to do so. Find out where they keep these documents.  They should also have a Will or possibly a revocable trust for their estate plan.

6. Do they need help with home upkeep, gardening, shopping, bill paying, getting around?

7. Are they open to having an emergency response system, especially if your parent lives alone?

8. If you don’t know them already, ask for the names and contract information for their neighbors and friends. How often do they see them?  Do they attend church, go to social events or other gatherings?


You may need to do a bit more research on your own and combine it with the information you gather from your parents. Because you’ll gather information over time, especially for new medical providers and medications, pick a regular date, such as birthday month, to annually review and update the information.

Don’t Feel Overwhelmed


Tackling this task can feel overwhelming, especially if your parent is very needy. It is not unusual to be unsure where to start or feel inadequate. Make it your first priority to address your parents’ most immediate needs. Your priority list may look different than what your parents consider priorities. That’s ok. If you start on things important to your parents, they will be more likely to allow you to take on other things that you consider priorities.


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