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Helping Aging Parents Plan

You and Your Aging Parents
Robert Schreiber

This blog is part of a year-long series aimed at addressing some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from family and adult children on the topics most concerning them regarding their aging parents or loved one. In 2012 Hebrew SeniorLife published the eBook "You & Your Aging Parent: A Family Approach to Lifelong Health, Wellness & Care," a compilation of answers from HSL geriatric experts in response to the many of the most frequently asked questions. We're reposting some of the most popular Q&A posts from our original eBook which was downloaded over 2,000 times. We're also adding new Q&As throughout the series that address topics not originally included in our eBook. Sign up to receive the blog series and download our original eBook at www.hslindependentliving.org

To understand the challenges of aging parents, you must begin by walking in their shoes and realizing that the walk is a marathon - not a sprint. This means being present when you’re with them and talking with them about the journey they are on.  The adult child can better understand the changes that have been occurring to their parents by asking them to describe what is important to them as they age and understanding their values and goals. Based on their answers, it is important to acknowledge what they are still able to do, what they can do with assistance from others, and what these changes mean to them in context of their values and goals.

Recognize that the changes they face often mean losing the ability to function in certain areas. There is a lot of information to be ascertained from the physical, psychological and adaptive changes your parents may make to cope. How your parents deal with the loss of certain abilities will be determined, in part, by their resiliency – whether they have the physical and mental reserves, emotional fortitude and spiritual health to respond to and withstand tough times. Having their own coping mechanisms, as well as support from others, can help them move through these significant changes and allow for acceptance.

If you observe your parent’s medical situation changing and impacting their ability to maintain their independence and function, use that as an opening to talk about how they are dealing with these changes and to ask them how that makes them feel. This requires listening skills, active engagement and carving out time to have this type of conversation. It is important to reflect on what they tell you and then talk about it.

You can start by asking them for their parental wisdom in a personal situation you are facing.  As the dialogue continues you can get the conversation to shift and begin talking about their dreams and goals and what’s really important to them to still try to accomplish in their life.  If you can determine with them the barriers that are preventing them from achieving those goals, you can talk with them about putting together a plan to help them attain those goals in their remaining years. Understand those goals will change over time based on what they’re capable of doing. 

Remember, this is an ongoing process of learning and sharing. By sharing your own challenges with your parents, you begin to open up productive communication and allow you to better help aging parents.  This allows for better understanding of what your parents want as they age and helps you appreciate the changes you will encounter as you navigate the road ahead.

To download your copy of our “You and Your Aging Parents” ebook, visit our website, www.agingredefined.org.

Robert Schreiber, MD's picture

About the Blogger

Medical Director of Evidence-based Programs, Hebrew SeniorLife

Dr. Schreiber is Medical Director of Evidence-based Programs at Hebrew SeniorLife and Medical Director of the Healthy Living Center of Excellence, an organization funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. He served as Physician-in-Chief and Chief Medical Officer at Hebrew SeniorLife from 2004 to 2012. He helped develop the strategic direction of Hebrew SeniorLife Medical Group, in-home and community-based services, and long-term and post-acute care.  He is a faculty member of the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife and is working to...

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I am 69 and my husband is 76. He has Stage IV prostate cancer.
Please add me to your blog list. Thank you!
My parents are losing their mobility......my mom is 80, my step-father is 87, my dad is 84.......all they talk about is their frail health, and living at the Dr offices......I would like to encourage them but sometimes find it difficult to do......maybe I can receive tips from this blog.....
I am taking care of my 72 year old Father and he has gone over the top with his faith and pushing others away that are not living like he thinks they should...all the way to not allowing them to our get togethers (at his house) for Christmas.
I am the aging parent of an only child..I have huge horse farm and have cancer and am starting to look at how to manage things for future..
Hi Sherri, I'm sorry to hear you are fighting cancer. Please check your personal email address, I've sent you our You and Your Aging Parents ebook which may be helpful as you sit down to discuss the future with your child.

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