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5 Important Talks to Have with Aging Parents Over the Holidays

The holidays are a season of reunion for families who may not have seen each other since the previous year. But when gatherings happen just once or twice a year, holidays may also expose changes in a loved one’s cognitive abilities or physical health.

Changes in someone’s wellbeing are more pronounced when months pass between visits. You may find that your mother is much more absentminded than you remember her, or perhaps your father has lost a troubling amount of weight.

As much as we want to keep the holidays focused on all things merry and bright, sometimes they need to be a time for important or even tough conversations about aging parents’ retirement, care, and plans for the future.

No decisions have to be made over platters of or turkey or plates of Christmas cookies, but it’s important to start the conversations while the family is together so that everyone knows what’s ahead when it comes to planning your parents’ future. 

These are five important talks to have with your aging parents over the holidays:

When you’re reunited with your aging parents over the holidays, you might notice that they seem frailer and more in need of assistance than they were the last time you saw them. While you’re together, try to assess their overall levels of health and independence. Watch their ability to handle daily life and personal care tasks, how much energy they seem to have, and how well they’re managing their medications. Ask them about how they’re feeling. If it seems like they’re struggling to manage their health on their own, start the conversation about whether it’s time to start looking at assisted living. 

Wellbeing is more than just a person’s physical health. There are many psychological and emotional challenges that come with aging, and a person’s ability to cope with these challenges may change over time. Watch for signs that your loved one has been feeling depressed, such as an unkempt house, poor personal hygiene, disheveled clothing, or a negative change in temperament. Oftentimes depression in seniors is linked to loneliness, which gives you a good reason to start discussing whether it’s time to make the transition to a senior living community.

Cognitive Ability
When you have an aging parent, it’s important to be educated about the warning signs of cognitive impairment so that you can catch it early. Early detection makes a critical difference in the progression of cognitive decline. If you notice your parent having difficulty remembering events from the past 24 hours, struggling to maintain a conversation, or displaying noticeable changes in behavior, you must talk to them about seeing a specialist for cognitive screening. If arrangements need to be made, it’s better to have those conversations while your loved one is still able to make their own decisions.

Financial Planning
Transitioning to retirement or moving to a senior living community are both significant financial adjustments as well as life adjustments. It’s important to prepare well ahead of time to make sure your loved one is financially equipped to handle the transitions of aging when the time comes. Parents typically keep financial matters private from their children, but starting in retirement, you should encourage your parents to be open about finances. If you haven’t already talked about it, use this holiday season to start discussing your parents’ financial future.

Legal Planning
The longer you postpone conversations about estate planning, senior care, and end-of-life wishes, the less control your loved ones will be able to have over their own future. It’s important to have these conversations while they’re still in relatively good health so that they can make their own decisions. It’s also better to have these conversations during a period of calm or happiness (such as the holiday season) than in a moment of crisis. These are tough topics, but it will help if you make it clear that your role will only be to carry out their wishes—not to make any decisions for them.

No one looks forward to having the tough conversations about aging, especially not during an otherwise joyous occasion like the holidays, but having the conversations when everyone is together will make the process go more smoothly in the future. And being well-prepared for the future is something to celebrate.