It’s one of the most important conversations that none of us want to have.
It’s the conversation with loved ones about growing older, and the likelihood that we, or someone we love, will need help with daily living due to accident, disease, disability, or the frailty that can accompany advancing age.
We avoid the conversation because it’s difficult and unpleasant in the best of situations, and can be contentious and hurtful when family members don’t see eye to eye.
Let’s face it. Who wants to spend time talking about needing a caregiver or becoming one?
Not the person who may need the help. The thought of losing independence and needing to rely on others for assistance is often considered a fate worse than death. Nobody wants to think about not being able to do the things we take for granted everyday — dressing, grooming, preparing meals, going where and when we want, managing finances, etc.
And how about the people who might become caregivers? They don’t want to talk about it either. It’s painful to imagine a strong, independent, capable loved one no longer being strong, independent or capable. It’s distressing to think about needing to do very personal things for a loved one that they don’t want you or anyone else to do.
It’s much easier to not think about it.
We didn’t think about it or have the necessary conversations before we became caregivers. It would have been much easier to make decisions if we would have known more about what our loved ones wanted, what they could afford, and have had the chance to research resources during a calm time versus having to take immediate action when the crisis hit.
We are typical of caregivers that we’ve talked with and assisted across the state. Most of us became caregivers with little to no notice. We just start doing what’s necessary and we learn from our mistakes.
There is a better way. Get prepared by having the conversation.
Talk with your loved ones about:
• Their physical and emotional health, medications and doctors
• Their wishes if their health declines. Where do they want to live? Who would they want to help them with daily activities?
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• Their financial situation: income, expenses, assets and insurance coverage; government programs they may be eligible for
• The location of documents like birth certificates; Social Security and insurance cards; safe deposit box keys and computer passwords
• Legal documents such as Power of Attorney for health care and finances.
It’s important to document what’s been discussed, and revisit the conversation periodically.
Preparing in this way benefits all involved. The person that may need help has made it clear what they want and has the peace of mind knowing that family members have agreed to help carry out their wishes. Those providing care now have a road map that helps them prepare for and carry out their caregiving responsibilities.
The conversation can be a little easier by using resources such as those from AARP at aarp.org/caregiving. If you need help holding the conversation, you may wish to have an impartial friend or adviser help plan and facilitate it.
If you — like so many — believe the conversation unnecessary because you’re going to lead a long, healthy life and die unexpectedly in your sleep, think again.
The odds aren’t in your favor. Seven of 10 people over the age of 65 will need help from others before death, and they will need it for an average of three years.
So, we urge you to make the New Year’s resolution to have that important and difficult conversation with loved ones — parents, spouses, partners and others. It may be the most important resolution you’ll ever make.
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• John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based consulting, advocacy and communication firm focused on older Iowans, Iowans with disabilities, and the caregivers who support them. Comments: email@example.com