How to Talk to Your Parents About the Future (Part 2)

As our parents age, they sometimes need help—but talking to them about it can be difficult. Aging and loss of independence are sensitive subjects, and family dynamics can make the discussion even trickier. Last month we looked at signs that a parent may need help and gave suggestions on approaching tough conversations. This month we’ll cover specific concerns, such as driving, in-home and long-term care, and end-of-life issues.


According to Pfizer’s “Get Old” wellness campaign, the hardest conversation to have with elderly parents is in regard to driving. In fact, getting a parent to hand over their car keys is more difficult (39% of respondents) than discussing wills or final wishes (24%). This isn’t too surprising, as driving is perhaps the ultimate symbol of independence.

If you’re worried that it’s no longer safe for a parent to drive, take note of the problems that you notice. This checklist can help. In some states, you can anonymously request that your parent retake their driving test; or perhaps you could ask their physician to make the request.

Before you broach the difficult subject of your parent giving up their car keys, figure out some transportation alternatives (e.g., hiring a driver, using community-based senior transport or having family members pitch in) so they don’t feel like they’re being left high and dry.

Long-Term Care

The warning signs of a parent’s decline listed in last month’s blog can be entries into a discussion with your aging parent about the need for help. Before broaching the subject, however, research their options. Long-term care includes informal caregiving, assisted living, home health services, adult day care, nursing homes and community-based programs. You can use a senior care calculator to compare your parent’s current cost of living with the costs of in-home care and assisted living in their community.

When you talk with your parent, share what you have discovered in your research, and get their feedback. Is there an assisted living center or retirement community that they favor? One that is popular with their friends? Is a church-affiliated center a priority?

Many seniors resist receiving help from “outsiders,” so you may find it beneficial to make such help seem commonplace and acceptable. For example, if you know of any of their peers who are receiving assistance, bringing that up in your discussion may increase your parent’s receptivity. Also, if your parent has traditionally followed the advice of a doctor or clergyperson, they might be open to hearing from that individual about their need for help and the available options.

Perhaps most importantly, try to have this conversation as soon as possible. You don’t want to have to make a quick decision when Mom falls and breaks her hip. Plus many retirement centers have waiting lists.

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End-of-Life Wishes

You should be prepared to handle difficult decisions on your parent’s behalf. That means you need to ask them some tough questions to ensure that their end-of-life wishes can be honored, especially if they’ve neglected essential documents such as a will.

Here are a few questions to ask (you can find additional advice on having the conversation in this Real Simple article):

  • Do you have a will or a living trust?
  • Do you have a durable power of attorney?
  • What are your end-of-life wishes?
  • Do you have advance health care directives?
  • Do you have long-term-care insurance?
  • Do you have an authorized user on your bank and investment accounts?
  • Where can I find these documents if I ever need them?

For Additional Help

The topic of difficult conversations with aging parents is broad, and there are too many potential situations to address in this article. To help you further, here are some excellent resources for the situations we have covered here as well as many others: