We won't sugarcoat it: talking to your parent about aging is one of the most difficult tasks there is.
If you are very close with your parent, the conversation can be even harder. Because you have such a good relationship, you'll be understandably worried about disrupting that connection by talking about aging and end of life issues. On the other hand, if your parent is difficult, it can be hard to get him/her to open up and talk through solutions with you.
You are not alone
First, know that anxiety around these conversations is completely normal. Take a deep breath and use the following tips to start planning for the future with your loved one.
Plan ahead and look for conversation starters
Many people don't talk about the future until a crisis has occured. If at all possible, try to introduce the topic when your parent is still healthy. Look for openings to discuss the future: retirement may offer a natural opportunity to talk about what's to come. As our parents—and their peer group—age, they may talk to you about scary health events or accidents that are happening to their friends. By framing your questions as something that might happen, a long time from now, you'll take some of the pressure off.
You may also be able to start conversations by sharing an article with them or telling them about something you heard on the radio.
No one likes to be caught off guard, and your parent may feel defensive when you bring up his/her ability to live independently "out of the blue." Understand that this is a sensitive topic, and you aren't going to solve every problem in one conversation. Plan to introduce the concept and then follow up later with more questions.
Decide ahead of time what issues you want to discuss. If you are proposing a solution, do your homework and come with prices and options for your parent to review.
Your parent may surprise you and be relieved to get these issues out on the table. He/she may also be in denial and try to shut down the conversation. Be open to stopping when it seems like he/she has had enough and revisit the conversation another time.
It will be tempting to take over the conversation with your opinions and preferences. Don't! Especially in the first conversation, try to make your loved one feel understood and heard. You can use active listening techniques like restating a point and asking, "Did I get that right?"
For more information about tough conversations with your parents plus checklists and resources, download the AARP's planning guide for families. You can also search our site by category to find out what local services are available to you and your loved one.