Having the Talk: How Boomers Should Approach Aging Parent Issues

Senior adult woman talking to her son.

Boomers who had a rough time getting through “the talk” with their kids might be in for a surprise: there’s another uncomfortable discussion they might face--this one with aging parents.

Telling parents that it’s not safe for them to drive, live on their own or manage their finances independently can be tough—but it’s a necessary conversation.

Too often, adult children avoid having the talk until it’s too late, which can make it hard to implement changes or get the required help.

I reached out to Terry Portis, director of the Center on Aging at Anne Arundel Community College for tips on initiating these conversations and making them productive. Here is what he had to offer:

Boomer: What tips would you give to boomers having to have the “tough talk” with aging parents with things like no more driving, moving to a care center or hiring live-in help?

Portis: The first thing you need to do is get yourself mentally and emotionally prepared to have the difficult conversation. First of all, think about how you want to be talked to when you are in their situation (because you will be someday). You should also keep the conversation as casual and calm as possible. Our own anxiety or frustration at the situation often comes across as anger or frustration with the parent, and that will lead to counterproductive conversations.

Boomer: How can boomers reinforce to their parents that we are here to support them and are looking out in their best interest?  

Portis: You can show your support with regular communication. It is easier to talk about “touchy” areas when you are already in the habit of talking about everyday things. Ask questions about their life, what they are doing, and their concerns. Seeking out their advice can also make them feel more valued.

Boomer: When is the best time to have the talk? Are the holidays an OK time to have serious discussions about the future?

Portis: The holidays can be an OK time to talk about the future—under the right circumstances. Telling mom it’s not safe for to live alone any more with everyone gathered around the Thanksgiving table is not a good idea—it makes her feel put on the spot and under pressure.

Take her aside and voice your concerns and potential fixes.

Boomer: If you feel your parents are losing their financial independence, what is the best way to address this problem?   

Portis: Gleaning financial information from parents can be difficult, and sometimes it’s best to use an indirect approach. Share stories like: Joe’s parents are struggling to pay their utilities or Frank thought he was retired, but had to get a part-time job, to break the ice and get them to open up about personal finances.  If you hear your parents are getting financial advice, it might be good to check the person’s background and references to make sure they are legit.

Boomer: In what ways can we be reassuring to our aging parents so they feel they are still in control?

Portis: Feeling in control is about self-determination and making life choices. In long-term care facilities, even small choices about when and where to eat, can make a big difference.

Instead of telling a parent, “we are going to have to move you into this facility,” present options that include in-home care or moving in with a relative or friend. While you may have strong feelings about one option or another, remember: it is still their life.