Successful Aging Part 1: Having “the talk”

Two men having a conversation

Successful Aging Part 1: Having “the talk”

A 2016 survey found that 54% of adult children would rather talk to their teenage children about sex and drugs rather than have difficult conversations with their elderly parents; conversely, a Fidelity Investments survey found 66% of elderly parents are reluctant to have long-term conversations, in any detail, with their families. So, who starts the conversation?

The short answer: both of you. If no one is willing to start conversations about their respective futures, chances are, decisions will be made prematurely, in haste, and could result in potential feelings of regret or guilt. To help ease in to these conversations in a planned and paced approach, below are some helpful hints to get the conversation started.

Tip 1: T.E.M.P.O: Timing. Experience. Motivation. Place. Outcome.

Timing — Time your conversations appropriately.

  • When: Make sure your parent has time to talk. Not when they are distracted by needing to get to an appointment, or even when their favorite program is about to come on.
  • How: Make sure you have time to listen. Don’t start an important conversation if you only have 5 minutes. Talking with aging parents requires an investment of time and patience.

Experience — You can open the door to talk to parents/family by tying your specific topic to direct experience. 

“Dad, My friend’s father had a heart attack recently and received care he’s now wishing he didn’t have. It got me thinking about what you might want in an emergency, so I can help advocate for your wishes.”

Motivation — Be clear about your own motive for asking.

If you can’t articulate the motivation driving a conversation, chances are your parents/family member won’t understand either. Check in with yourself:

  1. Are you annoyed, frustrated, angry? If so, it’s likely not the time to engage in an important conversation about the future. Do some self-care before planning a conversation.
  2. Your motivation needs to be solely for safety, well-being, and quality of life; both for you and your parents.

Place — Make sure you create “safe space” according to how Mom or Dad would define it.

  • In other words, the holiday dinner table or family reunion is not the place to begin “the talk” and any related sensitive issue. Consider first, their own home, and if that isn’t an option, try a neutral location to talk about the future.

Outcome — The mission: establish an ongoing, honest conversation about everything related to your parent’s future. How you get there: Be patient. You don’t need to try to get the answer you need, today. As a caregiver, you may have an instinct to fix problems and find a solution ASAP! Give yourself permission to do this in a slow and steady manner. It’s possible you don’t need an answer at all, today. You’re laying the groundwork to understand your parents feelings, wishes, and needs.

In good health,

Anne McDonald, MSW, LICSW

CenterLife Counseling

Anne McDonald

As a clinical social worker, I help clients discover their own power to create self-transformation, and as your therapist, I see myself as a tool to help you discover your own power to create change. Our work together will result in a customized “tool box” of self-management skills to equip you when life throws you a curve ball.  Let’s start discovering your true potential, so you can keep creating your best life story.  I look forward to working with you.


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