Crucial Conversations with an Elderly Family Member

I received a call from a friend who went to visit her parents out of town for a few days with the unfortunate news that her mother had a stroke. They were sitting in a restaurant eating dinner and all of a sudden she slumped out of her chair on to the floor. She was fine one minute and was on the floor the next.

Needless to say, everyone was devastated and because her mother was enjoying good health prior to this moment, the family had never considered that something like this could happen or had important conversations about “what if”? What do I want my elderly years to look like?

When some unexpected decline in an elder’s health occurs, such as a stroke, we are often thrown into chaos if we have never had any conversations with that person or other family members about what their wishes are as they age. These wishes might include living arrangements, receiving assistance with tasks, the ability to be independent, financial arrangements and end of life decisions. Suddenly, we are forced to figure these important details out in a pressure cooker time frame and may not have the benefit of having their input given their sudden declined health.

The family which is left to make these important decisions may find when they begin discussing what to do that they don’t agree how these different matters should be handled or they may find that financially the resources are not available to cover the expenses which now exist. Even more overwhelming is they often don’t know what options exist or have the time it will take to fully explore these options and come to a decision.

Having proactive conversations with your elderly family member to plan for these important life transitions which can honor their happiness and the family’s peace as their needs change is so valuable. Mediation is an amazing process to assist with achieving this goal. We help facilitate conversation about the ways in which the elderly family member could lose their independence and discuss the choices which would be available.

A simple example could be when it is time for the elderly family member to stop driving. This is a huge loss of independence and the elderly person may feel “perfectly fine” physically and not realize that cognitively or due to a physical decline such as vision, they are really posing a risk to their safety as well as others on the road.

We can help families determine what factors will be a trigger for the elderly person to “give up the keys” and if that time comes, create an action plan for how they will receive assistance with their daily needs. This allows the family to design the best future plan honoring everyone’s needs in a peaceful and fulfilling way. Mediation offers families the peace of mind to avoid experiencing conflict in unexpected, catastrophic situations where family unity is so vital as well as more gradual situations where loss of independence can create tremendous family turmoil.

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