How to Have “The Talk” with Your Aging Parents

More than 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65 each day, and 90 percent want to spend their senior years in their homes. Aging in place has psychological benefits for seniors because it allows them to remain socially active in their communities and maintain established relationships. It also saves on finances, as assisted living facilities cost an average of $49,635 annually.

But as time takes its toll on bodies and minds, aging in place becomes risky — if not problematic. If your parents aren’t ready to budge from their place of residence, yet you sense a decline in either their home upkeep or self-care, it’s best to be proactive before a crisis occurs. This requires more than a phone call to check in with them. Their answer to “How are you doing?” will most likely be “We’re fine.” To make staying in their home viable, you’ll need to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and go on a fact-finding mission.

Your sleuthing begins with an in-person visit to their home. Spend time with them as they move through their daily routines. Do they “furniture surf” when moving around the house? Are they unsteady on the steps from the front stoop when they go out to get the newspaper? Do they climb on a wobbly step stool to reach the blender they use every morning? Are stove burners left on? Did their lost car keys end up in the refrigerator?

Once you’ve finished the walk, then it’s time to have the talk. While parents are never eager to hear that their abilities are becoming compromised, a presentation of your findings — stated within the context of addressing potential trouble spots so that they can stay in their home — will help them come on board.

Here are some issues you may need to address when sitting down with your parents for “the talk:”

  1. Attack the clutter to de-stress.Keepsakes are often what makes a house feel like a home. But cherished belongings accumulated over a lifetime morph into clutter. Clutter takes up precious space needed for moving around the house safely. The disorganization also contributes to stress. To make the case for decluttering, role-play with your parents that you’re first-time guests in the house. With fresh eyes, have them notice where stacks of paper have accumulated, dusty trinkets have collected and miscellaneous items have gathered.
  2. Make modifications to aid mobility.Point out where you’ve observed any instability in your parent’s movement as they walk through their daily routines. Share ways to address how improving safety and facilitating their mobility. Installing a handrail along the steps will improve stair-use stability. Insist on a safe step stool with one step only. If they often use hard-to-access items, move them to a counter or tabletop.
  3. Up the wattage to improve visibility.As we age, we need more light in order to see adequately. Good lighting is a key safety feature. While Mom and Dad may keep the lights dim to save on the electric bill, encourage them to increase the wattage of light bulbs in high-use areas, such as near the chair where Mom sits to read or the desk where Dad pays bills. A nightlight to illuminate the path from the bed to the bathroom is an added precaution. For hard to reach lamps, consider touch-sensitive or clapper-type lamps. If their geriatric dog tends to lie in the pathway from the bed to the bathroom at night, a glow-in-the-dark collar can keep him from becoming a tripping hazard.
  4. Delegate financial and household duties.If you sense that your parents are becoming overwhelmed with managing the bills and general household maintenance, “the talk” should extend to how best to delegate these duties. It may be time to assemble a team of helpers. Do they have a handy man who can make regular calls? Finances may need to be relegated to a family member to whom they give power of attorney. It’s now easy to remotely assist them by setting up online banking, direct deposits of Social Security or pension checks and automatic bill payments. Help them create a “treasure map” of where important records, documents and belongings and kept.

We tend to be complacent as long as everyone is functioning well. But no one thinks they’ll get sick until they get sick, or become injured until they fall. If you see potential problems and head them off by having “the talk” while things are status quo, acceptable plans that everyone agrees to can be established.

Lynda Shrager, OTR, MSW, CAPS, is the author of Age In Place: A Guide to Modifying, Organizing, and Decluttering Mom and Dad’s Home (Bull Publishing, April 4, 2018). Her newspaper column, Mom’s Rx, appeared in countless newspapers across the country. Lynda is a featured columnist for Everyday Health, a leading online consumer health web site. She is also the author of Otherwise Healthy® – A Planner to Focus Your Thoughts on Organizing Life after Being Diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

Lynda has practiced in the medical field of geriatric rehabilitation for more than 37 years, focusing on all aspects of senior health and wellness. She combines her expertise as an occupational therapist, master’s level social worker, professional organizer and Certified Aging in Place Specialist to pursue her passion of providing therapeutic care in the patient’s home environment and in educating their caregivers. Learn more at .

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