By Marianne Delorey
I have been in elder care for over 25 years. I have studied the psychology and economics of aging. I know the service industry and am familiar with different levels of care. I thought nobody would be more prepared to talk to my mom about life care options. But what I didn’t know was that she would not be prepared to talk to me.
Several years ago, I asked my mom when she felt it would be appropriate to downsize. You could visibly see her bristle. She sat upright and narrowed her gaze. She spoke with confidence and said, “I am not moving until I have to.”
“Ok,” I recounted. “But you do realize that if I have to move you, it will be during a crisis.”
“Fine,” she said.
I let the topic drop. After all, she is well and (relatively) young. I felt confident that I could manage a crisis if needed, although I was secretly hoping we’d be able to talk in more detail before that happened. Then it hit me. The answer, just like the AA pledge, was for families in this situation to accept what could not be changed and to be brave enough to change what we could.
For those family members who are desperate for a plan, but have an elder who refuses to prepare for their decline, the key is to start planning anyway. Talk to siblings and other family members in the area. Go around to different facilities. Educate yourself about available services. Determine what you will be able to do, and what you cannot do. Then, (and this is where you need to be brave) present the plan to the elderly family member. It may sound something like this:
“Mom, I know you don’t want to think about a time when you are not independent, so you don’t have to. My brother and I have decided that if you cannot make decisions for yourself, we will bring you to the place down the street from me or around the corner from him, depending on availability. We will bring you the essentials, clothing, toiletries, etc. All of the other stuff, including your collectibles, will be packed up and put in storage. We can go through those items as we have time. We will sell your house and car and we will use our neighbor as a lawyer for your affairs if needed.
“If you don’t like any of these plans, now is the time to make sure we understand what you want. Would you like to come with me to the places I mentioned so you can see them yourself? Do you want to meet with the lawyer in advance so we are both clear on what you want in case you can’t speak for yourself? Is there anything in your attic that you feel you will need if ever the time comes? The door is open to have this conversation. It does not have to be now, but if you leave these decisions to us, just know we will do our best.”
There is no question that this will be a hard conversation for anyone to hear. But it is only fair to the caregiver and the elder. Elders need to take ownership of their future and plan. Families need to decide what they can offer and what other resources they will need.
Recently, my mother and I finally did have a meaningful discussion about these decisions. While we are not done, at least I got my mother to “maybe someday.”