June 23rd, 2011 at 3:00 pm
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Setting the stage for important discussions with elders

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

How do we bridge the gap when it comes to helping loved ones navigate the road of aging, particularly when health and financial concerns begin to emerge? Have we had any kind of in-depth discussion on the topics of most concern to them at this point in their lives? Based on the patients I have been seeing for decades–unless family members live nearby or have made a point of exploring options for aging loved ones–it is unlikely these conversations have occurred. Even if they have designated their power of attorney, many people live life one day at a time, not necessarily planning for the next decade of their lives.

For those looking for ways to get a conversation started at the next level, it is important to remember this is a process, not a onetime meeting to get the details and be done with it. What I love about the time I share with my patients and their families is learning their stories, what is important to them and how they feel about what is happening. Isn’t that what we would want someone else to do for us? Many families find that spending quality time listening without any objective in mind can be very helpful to the process.

Old pictures can lead to planning

For example, when I visit my brother and his family, the digital photo frame wanders through the decades of their memories. When my sister-in-law and I notice something special, it usually leads to stories we love to share. Usually, we both learn things we did not know before. It just happens naturally.

These types of encounters can serve as a relationship builder that opens an elder to talk about a variety of related topics. Even if you have done this before, I can guarantee you that each time you learn more if you listen to the feelings behind the details. What may sound like a story you have heard over and over can be an opportunity to ask questions that can lead to future planning.

Spend more than a few hours together

It is important to spend significant amounts of time with your elder(s). Doing so can help you understand their life, routine and preferences. Becoming an acute observer of habits, personality traits and personal frustrations, allows you to identify how aging is affecting their day-to-day lives. My frequent visits to see my mom, who lived a 10 hour drive away, provided me with repeated insights into the changes she was experiencing. These changes were subtle, not likely to be noticed as quickly by those who stopped by for short visits. Take the time to share your observations with other family members as they may notice changes as well.

With hectic lives, it may take a little more planning but will be worth the effort on many levels.

For additional information, refer to The critical conversation: Six tips to consider.

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