October 11th, 2011 at 11:57 am
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Successful aging: from a parent’s perspective – Part 1

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

Although much can be said for the frustrations of the adult children when trying to initiate conversations about the safety and quality of life concerns with their parents, there is a new trend emerging. I’ve discovered–more frequently–after my presentations on successful aging, older adults ask what to do when it is important to talk about their wishes, their concerns and planning for the future and they get the brush off from their family members.

The reasons they offers are similar, including how busy their children are with their families and work. Since they do not call or visit as often as they might like or are hurrying all the time, it just does seem like the time is right for something so important. Some parents feel the underlying reason for the brush off from family members may be these topics–particularly health or final wishes, are simply too difficult to address.

One woman shared she is noticing some changes, but her children see her as exceptionally active and capable at 83 years of age. The frustration and pain these parents have shared with me are significant and they are at a loss for what to do.

Indeed, there is a gift in someone wanting to have these discussions on a proactive basis.

Successful aging: thoughts from parents

Take advantage of my willingness. If I am willing to discuss my concerns, it would be better to do it while I am able to express them instead of waiting until a crisis. I may not be able to provide you with the guidance you may be looking for if I cannot communicate them to you. It is important to me that all of my family hear my wishes so you can minimize any conflict if decisions need to be made on my behalf.

Consider your reluctance. Are you able to talk to those closest to you about your wishes in case of an unforeseen situation that incapacitates you? If not, it is probably going to be harder for you to do this with me. How would you like to be treated if you were in my situation? What kind of a role model are you providing for your children? Is there someone you can talk to about your reluctance and underlying feelings?

Utilize resources. You do not have to do this alone. I understand how hard this is for you. Do you think this is easy for me to face these issues related a possible decline in capabilities? There are programs and information about approaching these sensitive conversations that might be helpful. I would be willing to have someone else there who can offer you emotional support and guidance so the conversation proceeds in a productive and respectful direction if that would be helpful.

In my role as a speech-language pathologist and geriatric communication consultant, I am often the person who will bring in the adult children during therapy to increase their understanding of some of the cognitive and safety concerns that indicate some proactive planning would be beneficial to all concerned.

Between our day-to-day lives and the hope that our loved ones will be as healthy as possible for as long as possible, the subtle changes may not be so obvious. When a loved one is feeling that the time is now, it opens many doors for conversations about planning for the future.

Coming next are suggestions for the older adult when those desired conversations are not forthcoming.

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