Fearless Aging: Have the aging conversation now

Adult children love their parents, and one of the great joys of life is enjoying regular visits with them. Typically, these gatherings include birthdays, holidays and other milestone family events.

While enjoying these family gatherings, it also is important to be alert to important details of the senior’s life. Often, what is seen on the surface may not tell the full story of their present life situation.

A recent example we learned about involved a son who went to visit his father at his home. Dad seemed fine, and the house looked OK.

While using the bathroom, the son’s viewpoint quickly changed. The bathroom was filthy.

As he began carefully examining the house, he noted many more issues that concerned him. The top of the shower door and floorboards had an inch of dust; the sink drain had a thick, green substance growing in it; and the windowsills had turned green. What he found was truly disturbing.

His father always took wonderful care of the home and employed a maid service. Unfortunately, his dad also has some vision issues, so he no longer sees the dirt that surrounds him. The maid essentially was doing bare minimum cleaning and ignoring the larger issues. It was time for a conversation and a change.

Since Dad needed some help such as cleaning, cooking and socialization, the son asked his father what lifestyle he preferred, living in an assisted living community or moving in with him in an in-law suite. Dad was grateful this conversation occurred and made his choice.

Although difficult, having conversations about lifestyle choices are important as we age.

Ideally, the optimal time to begin talking about what the adult loved one desires should occur around age 60. Starting the conversation early in the aging process while everyone is presumably healthy and aware adds clarity and reduces the angst of having these discussions under duress.

The lifestyle discussion should include such talking points such as daily activities, the setting (home and/or a senior community), finances, amenities required and where the assets are located should something happen.

In order for adult children to legally help their parents, they must have a power of attorney for health care and property. A POA document provides decision-making authority and is only implemented should someone become disabled and lack the ability to respond or make proper decisions.

It’s a safety net everyone 18 or older should have in place to protect themselves. A POA document is straightforward and can be drafted quickly by your local elder law or estate planning attorney.

Clearly, this is a difficult subject and one people choose to avoid until it’s often a crisis situation. I urge you not to delay this important process. You’ll be glad you have the details ironed out years from now.

If you aren’t sure where to begin or need help finding vetted local resources for older adults, Elderwerks is here to help. Please phone our office at 855-462-0100.

• Jennifer Prell is president of Elderwerks Educational Services, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering complimentary information, referrals and guidance to older adults, seniors and their families for senior living, care, support and benefits. Go to elderwerks.org or call 855-462-0100 for personal assistance. Email questions to help@elderwerks.org.