The Baby Boomer generation - or those born between the 1940's and 1960's - is reaching an age where things such as retirement and long-term care need honest consideration. However, as expected, the idea of our parents getting older or losing mobility/independence is not easy to discuss.
Regardless of difficulty, this is an important conversation for the Sandwich Generation to have with their parents. The Sandwich Generation consists of those in their 30's and 40's who are caring for their own children while also needing to care for aging parents. They've been sandwiched between the generation before them and the one after them - a tough spot to be in.
How to prepare for the conversation:
While not all Baby Boomers are facing changes in lifestyle, mobility, or independence at the moment, it is always important to plan for the future. Just as we plan and save for things like college or a new home, it is important to plan for the type of care needed when we can no longer care for ourselves.
Many children in the Sandwich Generation find it hard to start this conversation with their parents. Both sides may find it uncomfortable to think about and the parents are often unwilling to acknowledge or discuss it. When the time comes, it will be easier to have all legal, financial, and medical matters prepared ahead of time instead of being reactionary in the heat of the moment.
How can the Sandwich Generation make this discussion easier? The AARP has made a planning guide for families entitled Prepare to Care. The first thing they address is how to start the conversation.
Ironically, the conversation between children and parents starts before the two actually talk. The AARP recommends that the children consider a number of issues before they approach their family. These include:
- Who is the best person to start this conversation? The children aren't always the best choice.
- What are your biggest concerns and priorities as you create a caregiving plan for your family?
- What is the most difficult thing for you about having this conversation with your loved ones?
- How do you think your loved one or other family members react?
- What positive and negatives outcomes do you hope to arise from this conversation?
It is important to anticipate how this conversation will affect those involved and approach it the best way possible from the beginning. To make this type of discussion as positive and productive as possible, the AARP offers the following tips:
- Try not to form preconceived ideas about how it should unfold - expect to go with the flow.
- Approach your loved one with the attitude of listening to them, not instructing them.
- Share your feelings and thoughts about what you want for them in the future.
- Phrase your concerns with questions, allowing them to formulate a solution.
- Allow your loved one to be angry or upset, but calmly acknowledge the need for discussion.
- Make sure all family members have a voice and are heard.
- Always end on a positive note.
The AARP also encourages postponing the discussion when it becomes too emotional or unproductive. It is not necessary to start and finish the conversation immediately. Leave it open-ended for discussion at any time.
In an article written for Forbes, Denise Logeland states that the hardest thing about having this type of conversation is to admit that the current state will change. Many Baby Boomer parents don't want to talk about long-term care because they associate it with nursing homes. They want to believe they will stay in their home, as is, until the end.
This "Aging in Place" is a common idea among those over age 65, and with proper planning, it is definitely possible. However, without discussing what it will take to make it happen, it won't.
How to ease into the conversation:
Both the AARP and Forbes suggest starting this type of conversation by avoiding the subject of end-of-life care as the first topic. Within the Prepare to Care planning guide, there are many checklist for children to give to their Baby Boomer parents which helps both parties understand what is important to the parents as they grow older. It includes things like remaining healthy and independent, being involved in the community, working, traveling, and retiring. These topics can all be great starting points that will eventually lead to the details of long-term care and Aging in Place.
Forbes suggests using the current frequency of natural disasters as a way to talk about the ideas of medical emergencies and end of life care. It is easier to consider these types of issues in a "what-if" scenario because it doesn't feel as personal.
How to keep things moving:
Once the conversation begins and everyone involved is willing to talk, there are many resources available to help reach long-term care goals. The AARP guide offers checklists for everything from finances to home maintenance to transportation. They also provide links to other benefits and assisting agencies as you formulate the care plan.
Forbes also recommends Eldercare Locator, a service of the Department of Health and Human Services. Here you can search for a variety of services available in your local area.
While the idea of growing old and losing independence is uncomfortable to think about, it is a normal stage of life for everyone. The Sandwich Generation should approach their Baby Boomer parents with dignity and respect, listening to their needs, wants, and goals for the future. Leave the conversation open-ended, anticipating that it can and will change as time goes by. When both parties work together, it is possible to enjoy aging despite the change.