Discussing the future with someone, especially when that future is gloomy, isn’t the easiest of propositions.
Still, as uncomfortable as it may be for a 40-year-old to sit down with his or her aging parents and talk about what lies ahead, a conversation or two and a little planning can go a long way toward making that time of transition much smoother for everyone involved. At least that’s the way the people at Home Instead Senior Care feel, and their public service campaign, “The 40/70 Rule,” is all about getting that dialogue started.
“The ‘40/70 Rule’ means that if you’re 40, or your parents are 70, it’s time to start the conversation about some of the difficult things your parents are facing,” said Susan Walter, director of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Albany. “Is it time to start discussing finances? Is it time to start talking about making sure the lawn gets mowed or other jobs around the house get done? Is it time to take the car keys away? There are a lot of issues facing older people, and it’s much better to start a conversation now instead of waiting for some emergency situation to occur.”
Home Instead Senior Care is a national company created in 1994 to help senior citizens remain independent and in their own home for as long as possible. Walter began the Albany franchise in 1998, and offices in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs soon followed.
“What we try to do is help people stay in their homes for as long as possible,” said Walter, who has 65 employees serving as care givers to elderly residents of the Albany area. “We offer nonmedical assistance, but many of our employees do have some kind of medical background. Typically, what our workers do is to help people do little things around the house, or maybe help them out with bathing or other personal care issues.”
Jim Hurley, who spent much of his professional life working in the hotel business trying to make people feel at home, took over the Schenectady branch of Home Instead Senior Care last October.
“We assist people in their daily living,” said Hurley, “and that could be by helping them with meal preparation, doing little things around the house for them, and by simply driving them to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment. These might be people who are getting out of rehab or are just getting on in age and can’t quite do everything they used to do. They might have kids, but those kids are maybe out of state or far enough away that it isn’t convenient to drop in on their parents.”
While officials from Home Instead Senior Care are also happy to talk to senior citizens about planning for the future, it is imperative that the children are part of the conversation.
“We have seen a lack of communication lead to misuse of medications, self-neglect and accidents,” said Walter. “It is tough because it’s difficult to get the conversation going due to the continuation of the typical parent-child role. But it’s so important to start these conversations, and to make the parent feel like he or she is part of the decision process.”
Hurley’s personal experience taking care of his in-laws and his own parents precipitated his getting into his new business venture with Home Instead Senior Care.
“As you start getting older, you suddenly find yourself spending more time with your parents, and that’s the good part,” he said. “But at some point, you have to start the conversation about the future. They’re making a transition, and you have to help them do that. If you don’t talk about it, it’s only to make things a lot more difficult as your parents get older.”
So, how do you start the conversation? Here are seven tips from “The 40/70 Rule” public service campaign:
Get started — It’s time to start observing and gathering information carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t reach a conclusion from a single observation and decide unilaterally on the best solution until you have gathered information with an open mind and talked to your parents.
Talk it out — Approach your parents with a conversation. Discuss what you’ve observed and ask your parents what they think is going on. If your parents acknowledge the situation, ask what they think would be a good solution. If your parents don’t recognize a problem, use concrete examples to support your case.
Realize sooner is best — Talk sooner, rather than later when a crisis has occurred. If you know your loved one has poor eyesight or has trouble driving at night, begin to address those issues before a problem arises.
Forget the baby talk — Remember you are talking to an adult, not a child. Patronizing speech or baby talk will put older adults on the defensive and convey a lack of respect for them. Put yourself in your parent’s shoes and think how you would want to be addressed in the situation.
Maximize independence — Always try to move toward solutions that provide the maximum amount of independence for the older person. Look for answers that optimize strengths and compensate for problems. For instance, if your loved ones need assistance at home, look for tools that can help them maintain their strengths. Contact professional caregiving services or find friends that can help.
Stay tuned in — If your dad dies, and soon afterward your mom’s house seems to be in disarray, it’s probably not because she suddenly became ill. It’s much more likely to stem from a lack of social support and the loss of a lifelong relationship. Make sure that your mom has friends and a social life.
Ask for help — Many of the issues of aging can be solved by providing parents with the support they need to continue to maintain their independence. Resources such as Home Instead Senior Care, area agencies on aging and local senior centers can help provide those solutions.
Dr. Jake Harwood, an author and communication professor at the University of Arizona who prepared the seven tips, said: The bottom line is to keep talking, because the parent-child conversation can be so important in helping seniors adapt to changing life circumstances. Good communication is vital to helping families know when it’s time to seek additional resources. Both child and their loved one can benefit from outside help, but the only way that will happen is if they can talk about it.”
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