Is It Time? The Elder Care Conversation


An 85 year old woman is on the phone with her daughter. She says, “Honey, I left for church service this morning at 8:15. It is now 3:30 and this nice young man here at the 7-11 let me borrow his phone as I seem to have misplaced mine. I’m a little confused. I’m not sure where I am.”

The daughter has suspected there’s been something wrong for a while, but now she’s got the first “I’m lost” call.

On the other side of town, there’s a couple in their early 70s. Retired with a nice income. They’re very involved with their children and grandchildren’s lives. They play golf and bridge and go out to eat with friends. They’re travelling a lot. They read, do crossword puzzles. They’re living a full and active life.

Two different situations. So how do you handle each one of these? I think most of us understand that in the first situation something needs to be done – NOW!

In his book, The Parent Care Conversation, Dan Taylor, a good friend of mine, talks about these and many other topics. He covers six conversations that need to be initiated:

  • The big picture
  • The house
  • Personal property
  • Money
  • Professional care
  • Legacy.

My partner, Ed Kelly, has spent considerable time speaking about and working with clients on the topic of elder care. In his upcoming book, Ed pulls from his many experiences to help address how to have these conversations as well as how this aspect of life affects your money and planning.

In the above “I’m lost” case, how do you begin this whole process?

First, you have to recognize a few things about folks who are having these issues. You may see behaviors such as:

  • They’re not clear in their thinking.
  • They sometimes are dazed when they’re looking at you.
  • They have some ritualistic behaviors, like buying the same item at the grocery store, even though they have 20 of them at home.
  • They have problems balancing their checkbook or writing checks, or finding their checkbook.
  • They having difficulty just going through simple solutions.
  • They’re forgetting where they are.

How do you address this?

The process starts with bringing one or two people to a comfortable setting (usually their home), usually mid-morning and sitting down with them to open up the conversation.  The discussion should be very collaborative, never condescending. Listen to what their needs are; help them think through what they’re trying to do, where they need to go, and how they want to get there.

It’s about sorting through those questions and putting a plan in place. The goal is to help them enjoy life comfortably and with dignity.

As a nation, these experiences are becoming more prevalent. 13% of the population is over the age of 65. 8,000 to 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, and by 2030, 18% of the population will be over age 65.

We’ve got this “silver tsunami” taking place and the infrastructure to handle it does not yet exist. This makes that conversation that much more critical.

For most folks, the conversation starts at home. You may have already dealt with it yourself, especially if you’re in your 50s or 60s and you’re in that “sandwich” generation. We’re seeing children just getting out of college and heading back home. And at the same time parents will need this elder care, which is a really tough area on its own.

Just as important is the need to have a conversation with the fully functioning couple in their 70s. They should be asked, “Mom and Dad, what is it you want us to do as you get older and life becomes more challenging? How do you want to deal with this? Together, how should we address all this with you?”

Being more proactive and putting a plan in place is the start. We’ve seen many examples with our own clients where destructive behavior arises as parents age and small issues begin to take place.

It’s important to be proactive yet it’s one of those issues where so many of us shy away. It’s not easy to watch parents decline over time and see them deteriorate. We all want them to age in a dignified manner. It starts with a conversation. Now’s the time.

Ed Kelly’s book on this subject is going to come out in a few months. If you’d like a copy, please let us know. You can call us at 800-480-7913 or just e-mail us.   We’ll make sure to contact you once the book is published.

Send me your response, query or comment to gklaben@coylefinancial.com.