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Talking With Aging Parents

Ronnie Friedland
April 3, 2009

Tips for adult children on communicating with their parents.

Seniors who are in their 80s have different priorities from seniors in their 70s, says Emily Saltz, LICSW and the director of Elder Resources -- a private geriatric care management firm in Newton, Mass. Saltz anticipates that people now in their 60s will be a different type of senior altogether.

Seniors in Their 80s

How are they different? Saltz has found that those now in their 80s, who went through the Depression, have often lived frugally and saved as much as possible. They focus on wanting to leave a legacy to their children, are less willing to spend money on themselves, and less inclined to talk about future plans.

Seniors in Their 70s

Seniors now in their 70s, on the other hand, are more questioning, more discerning and less amenable to institutional living alternatives. This new wave of "young" seniors is beginning to ponder difficult questions that do not have easy answers, such as, "Where do I want to live if I'm no longer able to stay at home? Who do I want to take care of me in the event I become ill? What are my wishes regarding end of life care?"

Baby Boomers

The baby boomers, Saltz anticipates, will question the existing ways of doing things and demand different services that better fit their needs. Boomers, she says, have the will to spend their money on services they would like, but may not have the means -- sufficient savings -- to do so, since they have spent more freely throughout their lives.

Tailor Your Conversation to the Senior's Values

Knowing the seniors' priorities can help their loved ones know what to say to convince them to get the help they need.

For example, Saltz says, for someone in his 80s who doesn't want to spend money on services for himself, having his children (and grandchildren) tell him they prefer that he spend it on his own needs and not gift it to the kids, might really free the parent up to take care of his own needs.

For someone in his 70s, having the children (and grandchildren) talk with him about his different options and help him identify the ones that best fit his needs and financial situation, might be helpful. This can, however,??be complicated, Saltz says, due to the fact that seniors are often reluctant to discuss their finances with their children. Nevertheless, having an outline of the parent's assets, so you can know which options are feasible, is imperative.

In general, Saltz says, when children have conversations with their elder parents about the future, they must first reassure the seniors that they will be in control and have the final say and that the children just want to help them think about future possibilities and understand their preferences.

Ronnie Friedland is an editor at Care.com. She has co-edited three books on parenting and interfaith family life.
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