Start the Elder Care Conversation In Your Family

Many people don't have a plan in place for elderly parents to stay, do you?

  • 29 Mar, 2022 11:03

When preparing for retirement, “we make decisions about pursuing a hobby or moving to a new place, but we rarely make decisions about elder care,” says Suzanne Asaff Blankenship, author of How to Take Care of Old People Without Losing Your Marbles. 

If you’re a caregiver, or you are thinking that you may become a caregiver in the future or that you may one day need care for yourself, it’s crucial that you propose the topic with your parents or your adult children. Yet when it comes to talking about a parent’s future wishes, there seems to be a communication gap between parents and their adult kids.

Research by Fidelity Investments found that while 72% of parents assume one of their children to undertake long-term caregiving responsibilities if necessary, 40% of the kids cited as filling this role weren’t aware of that. Similarly, approximately 70% of parents expect one of their children to help manage their investments and retirement finances, but 36% of the kids involved didn’t know that. 

Furthermore, one-third of families disagreed as to whether children knew where to find significant family documents, such as wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies. And 43% of parents showed they have not had detailed conversations with family members about long-term care and elder care—and an additional 23% have not had any conversations at all.


A Family Affair

Ira Worden and his wife have no children, but to evade the kind of confusion he faced after his father’s death, they hold an annual family meeting that consists of grown nieces and nephews. “We discuss anything and everything, including financial and health topics,” he says. 

“In some families, being up front is worthwhile,” says Blankenship. In a survey by The Conversation Project, 95% of respondents supposed they are willing or want to talk about end-of-life wishes; 53% said they’d be pleased if a loved one started a conversation. 

For families who need a more subtle approach, asking questions can be the ice-breaker. “If you’re the adult child, you could ask, ‘How do you think you’ve been doing with X?’ or ‘How would you feel about Y?’ ” says Meredith Stoddard, vice president for life events planning at Fidelity. Everyone gets a voice in the discussion, but parents should have the final say as long as they’re able, says Stoddard. 

One key part of the conversation is to ensure all siblings and adult children play a role in elder care. A study by Northwestern Mutual found that the responsibility for caregiving most likely falls on the shoulders of one sibling, rather than being shared among all the children.

“This is not a solo affair,” says Blankenship. “Nobody gets a get-out-of- jail-free card.” If one child is handling Mom or Dad’s personal care, others can be taking care of other things such as home maintenance, ordering medications online, handling the bills and paperwork, or giving the primary caregiver a much-needed respite.

As you start the conversation, do not expect much, advises Stoddard. “Overthinking can be your enemy, and you can always come back later.”