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Talking with loved ones about their care can be a very difficult conversation. It involves tackling tough topics, including what they want if they are unable to make medical decisions for themselves; what options they would prefer if home care or transferring to assisted living becomes necessary; and if their will and financial power of attorney are in place.

Generally, the earlier you have conversations, the better. When entering these uncharted waters, it’s a good idea to remain compassionate while expressing concern, and most importantly, listen. Here are a few additional tips that can help:

Talk early and often

  • Begin the conversation when your loved ones are alert and can make decisions from a competent place.
  • Your loved ones may get overwhelmed if you try to cover too much in one long sit-down conversation. Try working your concerns into everyday exchanges in preparation for a series of sit-down discussions.
  • Returning from a doctor visit can be a natural place to begin addressing questions about health concerns. As an entry point for a talk about finances, you could mention your own retirement planning. Noticing that your loved one is having difficulty with stairs could open the subject of home solutions and lead to a broader talk about future housing options.

Timing is everything

  • Pick a time when there are no distractions or other obligations so you can give the conversation your undivided attention.
    Explicitly state that you want them to be safe and cared for, that you want to understand all available options, and that you need their help to make the right decisions.
  • If you stall for the perfect opportunity, an emergency may catch you unprepared. Start researching early with the thought that care may likely be phased over time.
  • You may want to organize a meeting of family members to talk about your loved ones’ caregiving plans. Prepare a list of questions or concerns about housing, health care, transportation, etc.

When possible, let your loved ones lead

  • Pick topics that you believe are most relevant to them at the given time. Be straightforward while keeping in mind this conversation has to be a collaboration.
  • It can be frustrating if your loved ones don’t want to engage in the conversation, but you should respect that. Be patient; take notes; and keep trying at different times and with different approaches.
  • You may want to include a trusted family member, friend, doctor, or clergy to address these sensitive topics with your loved ones. Rehearse what you want to say and try to anticipate their responses.

Close with an agreed-upon plan

  •  Be sure everyone is clear about the details of the agreed-upon plan and there are shared expectations around next steps.