It's Never Too Soon To Start Talking

There’s no time like the present to start a conversation with your family member about how she wants to live, what type of care she wants and how she might pay for what she need in the future.

The worst time to have these conversations is when your family member is sick. It’s hard to strike a note of optimism when you need to ask your hospitalized family member “where would you want to live if you can’t live at home?”

Suggestions for starting the conversation

Use an example from someone your family member knows or from the media. If Uncle Ned didn’t do any planning and left his adult children arguing over what they should do to help him, use this as an example of what you want to avoid.

Be prepared to be patient. This is tough subject for your relative and you to discuss and even think about. You will need to be persistent to start the conversation if your family member doesn’t want to talk. It will likely take many conversations before you understand what your family member wants.

Pick a suitable time and place for your conversations. Consider what time of day your family member is most energetic and clear minded and plan your talk for those times. Make sure you have privacy and can limit distractions.

Bring some facts to the conversation. Research local costs for home care services, adult day programs and assisted living communities so you and your family member can be realistic about the plans you are discussing.

Create a list of action items from your conversation. Most likely your first few conversations will lead to more questions. By creating a list of actions that you or your family member need to take, you can help the process keep moving forward.

Here’s a list of basic questions to cover:

Where do you see yourself living as you age? Presuming that your family member says she would like to stay in her own home, you could ask about how to address obvious barriers like stairs. You can ask about 24 hour care, where would the caregiver sleep?

What would you want to do if you had trouble cooking and shopping for yourself or bathing and dressing yourself?

What would you want me to do to help you?

What funds have you set aside for the future?

For those of us who are trying to help a family member with dementia it may feel too late to ask these questions. Do try to discuss things with your family member. Any input that she provides can help your peace of mind when acting on her wishes. You may need to put your head together with other family members to answer these questions on behalf of your family member. Reflecting on past statements by your family member, thinking about how she cared for another family and considering her values gives you valuable clues about the right decisions.

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