In researching this article, I discovered some terrific resources for family members who know in their heart of hearts that it is time to have the conversation with their aging parents. Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman started the Conversation Project in 2010 with a goal of making it easier to initiate conversations about tough end-of-life decisions. You can download a 12-page “Conversation Starter” kit at theconversationproject.org. Her website states that 60 percent of people think that making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is “extremely important,” yet 56 percent of people also reported that they have not communicated their end-of-life wishes. There seems to be a disconnect that can only be remedied by open dialogue with our loved ones. Another resource, Having the Conversation: A Heart to Heart with Aging Parents (havingthe-conversation.com), was developed by Covenant Retirement Communities. They indicate that the five most important considerations for aging seniors are: “security, freedom, peace of mind, friends and choices.” Their website offers a video as well as checklists and articles to help you through the conversation. The toll-free 1-800-AGE-INFO line or website, www.800ageinfo.com, is designed specifically for Massachusetts elders and their families. Every community on the North Shore also has a Council on Aging that can be called on for resources and assistance.
Perhaps the best advice is to be prepared. Before initiating “the talk,” practice some relaxed conversation starters, i.e. “How is your friend Bob doing now that he has moved to a senior housing development?” “You mentioned that you were concerned about finding someone to remove the snow from the walkways this winter. Did you know that snow removal is free for those living in senior housing? Now Bob can enjoy the snow without having to shovel.” “How about you dad, would you ever consider moving into senior housing?” See if this line of conversation gives you a hint or some wiggle room to discuss your concerns for your loved one’s safety and well being. You might also inquire about how many times each week your loved one sees or talks with friends and neighbors. Social isolation is a real concern for older adults, especially those living alone. If you are in town for the holidays, you might take your parent on a visit to the local senior center where you both can explore the opportunities and resources available.