Earlier this summer, my 83 year old father ended up nearly bedridden before having extensive back surgery.  After several weeks in the hospital, he was discharged to a rehab facility to recover for a couple months before returning home.  This was a wake-up call for our family.


Like many families, reasonably good health of aging parents didn’t provide any particular reason to have a serious conversation about what to do if one or both parents could no longer care for themselves.  How quickly things can change. It’s been almost four months since his back surgery and he still isn’t able to fully care for himself.  And the biggest problem for me, I live 3,500 miles away and I can’t do much to help my other nearby siblings and mother.

Waiting until a small issue becomes a big concern is too late.  At that point, a family is forced to respond to a crisis rather than have the luxury of implementing a well-thought-out plan to help with living a quality life.

Like many families, ours is learning under pressure and out of necessity. Let me some suggest a few things that might help your family to better plan in advance to care for aging parents.

  1. Initiate a conversation with all family members about the need for a plan. Topics might include finances, legal planning as well medical care decisions.
  2. Learn about your parents’ wishes. Find you what kinds of medical treatment and care they desire under various circumstances. It is always best to hear first hand the wishes of parents and not have to make an emotionally-laden guess when tough decisions are necessary.
  3. Determine what written documents are needed. Is there an updated estate plan, will, living will, durable power of attorney, health care surrogate, etc.?
  4. Discuss difficult subjects like when the older person should stop driving. Include conversation about possible options to prevent isolation when that time comes.

These kinds of conversations can be difficult to initiate due to a wide variety of reasons and a complex weave of relationships.  The more openly these topics are discussed, the easier it will be to address situations before crises arise. And further more, when the aging parent is included in the conversation, it allows them to feel more empowered as they participate in the decision-making process.

QUESTION:  What topic have you found to be the hardest conversation to have with aging parents?  Use the comment area below.

12 responses to Aging Parents – Planning in Advance

  1. Cindy Burke on October 10, 2012 at 7:31 PM Reply

    Trying to explain to my mother, who has dementia, why she cannot go back to PA, and why she cannot live by herself anymore has probably been the hardest to broach. She just did not understand what was happening to her, and she thought she was just fine. Two weeks ago, she moved to Montana with my sister, who has a more flexible work schedule than I have, and can spend more time with her. Of course, she will have to go in to a facility at some point. Her situation has prompted me to get long-term health insurance in the event I get dementia.

    • Dennis Gingerich on October 10, 2012 at 9:50 PM Reply

      I’m sure it has been very challenging caring for your mother with dementia. May God give you and your sister wisdom, strength and courage in the days ahead!

  2. Dennis Gingerich on October 10, 2012 at 3:54 PM Reply

    Excellent feedback and ideas from your experience! Thanks Dorothy!

  3. Dorothy Mercado Ramos on October 10, 2012 at 8:59 AM Reply

    As you know I personally experienced all of these. I made the decision quit my job and move out of my own home and move in with my mom – I was the only one out of 6 who had grown children and I lived the closest. Although, I left as much control as possible about decision for her care with my mom so she still felt independent and in control of her own life.

    The moment the doctors told us 6 years ago that they did not have much hope for my mom surviving her illnesses we immediately went and got power of attorney to make sure all of my mother’s wishes were carried out according to what she wanted and also to give us the right to ask questions and make crucial decisions at times that she was not able to – that in itself was a blessing. It took a load off of my mom and us. Towards the end our cousin who is an attorney came and sat with my mom and helped her create her last Will and Testament. It made everything easier for all of us.

    The driving was a HUGE issue. It was like removing her legs. She was on so many different medications that affected her ability to drive so I had to explain this to her which at first was not received well. We finally asked her to let us honor her by driving her around and becoming her “limousine driver”. All she had to do was tell us where she wanted to go and we would take her. Everyone of us from me to my sisters to grandchildren and even boyfriends who came over to visit. Everyone was her “personal driver”. It softened the blow of the reality that something was happening and a complete life change was taking place.

    We even paid for funeral costs years ago of which my mom had no idea we planned until her final months when we knew God was about to take her home. She worried about the funds for burial and requested she be cremated but we knew it was because she thought it would be too expensive for us to bury her. When the moment came we all sat with her together and shared what we had done. It brought peace to her and to us. We did not say anything sooner because we did not want our mom to feel as if we were giving up on her.

    The hardest part was knowing she was leaving and listening to her talk about it. She tried her best to soften it for me. I prayed myself through listening to all the things she wanted me to do. I fulfilled each and every one. The blessing of it all I got a glimpse of heaven before she left. She shared with me all God was revealing to her. All those she missed and loved and I saw the sadness in her eyes when she knew that she had to go and do something that she knew this time she could not change. It was hard for me. Being a caregiver is not an easy job. You become their arms, legs, voice, ears, eyes. You become their lives practically. You have to be prepared to dedicate your whole life. Not part but all of it if you choose to keep them at home which is what my mother wanted. She did not want to go to a nursing facility and in our family we take care of our own. It was very hard but I would do it all again if God wanted me to. I wouldn’t trade any of the gifts I received from honoring my mom for anything. It was my mothers final gift to me and me to her.

    My husband took a back seat – he chose to so i can pour myself into that honor. I was blessed to have such an amazing husband who allowed me to do this. It should have been God, my husband, my kids, and family but he stepped aside and allowed my mom to take his place. God saw that and is blessing it. We now share our own lives as new empty nesters and appreciate things more than we did before. We also learned to prepare ahead of time as we now know what to expect when we reach that moment which can be at any given time. We will do our best to prepare so our kids don’t have to and they can just enjoy mom and dad.

    As for your final statement: “And further more, when the aging parent is included in the conversation, it allows them to feel more empowered as they participate in the decision-making process.” So true!!! My mom felt she had control the whole time. It allowed her to continue to fight for her life until she heard Her Saviors voice calling her home this past January.

    Thanks for sharing this topic Dennis.

  4. Patty VanMinnen on October 10, 2012 at 8:50 AM Reply

    First of all Dennis, thank you for this blog. I look forward to your email in the morning. Very thought provoking. I too have an 87 year old mom currently in a retirement home. I also have a 65 year old mentally challenged sister who has a room next to my mom. I am finding the most difficult thing right now is allowing my mom to continue to handle her own money. For the most, her mind is sound but my sisters and myself are noticing some deterioration in that area. I am her power of attorney but do not want to take away one of the last things she has control of in her last years or days here on earth. I keep a close watch on her account, but have little control over the money she withdraws every month which she insists she needs to live on week to week. Not sure where it is going and I remind her to keep her cash locked up in her safe but she will remind me that she knows what she is doing and it is her money. My patience has grown in the last few years since my father passed away and I can see I need to continue to pray for a truckload more.

    • Dennis Gingerich on October 10, 2012 at 3:54 PM Reply

      Good to hear from Canada, Pat! Thanks for your great input!

  5. Russ Winstead on October 10, 2012 at 8:26 AM Reply

    I too have an 83 year old Dad and a Mom with some current heavy medical problems. I have been open to discuss these issues as my parents have wanted to, but in truth I have avoided the topic. I think it touches on so many of the difficult things life offers.I really don’t want to think about a time they won’t be here.I guess I was holding out for the “Rapture” before they passed 🙂 Still am I guess…. However, it’s time to deal with things “just in case”! Thanks Dennis for an uncomfortable wake-up call.

  6. Marilyn on October 10, 2012 at 7:45 AM Reply

    Tony and I are the aging parents. Recently I picked up a
    “Five Wishes” pamphlet for each of us. We haven’t completed it yet but for our children’s sake…we must. Since FL is a Five Wishes state believe this is a good first step.

    • Dennis Gingerich on October 10, 2012 at 3:52 PM Reply

      Thanks Marilyn for sharing the info on the Five Wishes pamphlet.

  7. Dennis Gingerich on October 10, 2012 at 7:32 AM Reply

    Thanks Terry! Your comments are very accurate to my experience as well!

  8. Terry Frith on October 10, 2012 at 6:31 AM Reply

    I have seen this happen with some of my clients. Some of the hardest conversations I’ve seen for the kids and their parents is usually of a cognitive issue. The question about “when to give up driving” seems to be very hard. It means rendering the independence for the parent and it’s never something we want to do. The other issues that seem very hard is when does “forgetting a few things here and there” seem to be a deeper issue. I’ve been on both sides of that conversaton. The aging parent can easily explain why they didn’t remember they did something, while the child is very inquisitive about the situation. It puts the parent on the defense and it’s very difficult.

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