Help Your Parents Adjust To Change

As they age, tips for having some of those difficult conversations.

FACING THE CHANGES that aging brings is not easy for the people who are getting older or for those who care about them.
“One of the most important things that all families dealing with issues of aging can do is to have the conversations before you run into a crisis,” says Beth Kallmyer, senior director of Constituent Services at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago. If it’s too late for advance planning, try these tips to help your older parent, spouse or sibling:

On giving up the car keys
Get an evaluation. Most states let anyone report an at-risk driver. Most also have an evaluation process to determine whether seniors are a danger to themselves or to others, says social worker Debra Greenberg of Montefiore Medical Center’s geriatrics division in the Bronx, N.Y. Often, people whose driving skills don’t pass muster will stop driving because they realize they’re no longer up to it.
Involve the doctor. If a physician reports an at-risk driver, the driver must, at minimum, take another road test.
Be direct. Telling her father he had to give up driving “was the most difficult conversation I ever had,” says Marion Somers, author of Elder Care Made Easier. Pointing out his deficits (missing red lights, running over curbs) didn’t help until she said. “It’s one thing if you kill yourself, but what if you kill somebody else?” That’s what got him to stop.” Arrange alternatives. Set up transportation alternatives before a prent gives up the car keys. Check with senior centers, churches or synagogues to find out what’s available. Set up home delivery for groceries.

On moving to assisted living
Put yourself in the senior’s shoes. Frame the discussion from the person’s point of view. For many, the pinnacle achievement in life was to buy a house, pay it off and “never, ever give it up,” says Andrew Carle, director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services in Fairfax, Va. It’s not “just a house,” it’s history and memories.
Try it out. Ask whether the assisted-living home you’re considering offers “respite visits.” Most major assisted-living companies offer them, Carle says. Seniors can stay a week or two to try it out, and then go home.
Don’t sell-yet. Wait to sell the house until the senior is comfortable in assisted living. Can’t wait? Move the senior first. “Most houses aren’t going to sell right away,” Carle explains, and if assisted living doesn’t work out, you can always pull it off the market.
Be patient. Satisfaction rates in assisted living are in the 80% to 90% range, Carle says, once seniors recover from the “transfer trauma.” Allow three to four months for seniors to accept the change.

On handling their finances
Understand the senior’s point of views. Seniors are the generation of savers, Greenberg says. It’s hard to give control of their money to a younger person who doesn’t have the same view of saving and spending. Show that you understand your loved one’s point of view and will honor his wishes.
Frame suggestions tactfully. Be sensitive to the senior’s tolerances. Automatic bill-paying and online banking may seem ideal to you, but how does the senior feel? “Some elderly people don’t like the idea of giving access to their bank account” to anyone, says Eric Tyson, co-author of Personal Finance for Seniors for Dummies. Explain how you use these tools. Walk your loved one through the process.
Use the news. Start the discussion by talking about what’s happened in the economy and financial markets, Tyron suggests. Then ask how your loved one’s savings or expenses were affected. Ask if you can help.

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