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How to talk to your family about future planning

“The only way I’m leaving my home is in a pine box,” is what people often say when the topic of future planning is broached, no matter how sensitively or carefully.

Gaye Moffet’s response to that comment is, “Okay. Let’s plan for that.” 

Because the only way to truly safeguard our autonomy and independence as we age-in-place is to have a plan.

Fortunately there are tools we can use to make sure we’re taken care of the way we want. That said, it’s not an easy topic to broach with your family over dinner. 

Here are a few tips to be proactive when it’s time to start this difficult conversation.

Keep it practical: start with low hanging fruit

Before delving into any conversations about home care or long-term care, start by encouraging or helping your loved one choose their Powers of Attorney, including a Power of Attorney for Personal Care and a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property.

Designating a trusted person who will respect your wishes if you’re unable to make them yourself is the best way to prevent the government from stepping in and taking over. 

Inviting your loved ones to talk about Powers of Attorney can also open the door to completing other documents, like advance directives and a will.

What’s critical is keeping your loved one’s wishes at the heart of the conversation and emphasizing that writing them down will make it easier for someone else to know and respect what they want. 

Respond quickly during crucial moments

Often the first big loss of autonomy and independence comes when a doctor has to suspend a patient’s driver’s licence for safety reasons.

It’s a big blow, but it could be a chance for the family to come together to make sure their loved one will get what they need and stay engaged with the community.

It can also be the catalyst to talk about downsizing and moving closer to family, or possible to an easy-to-manage residence with the amenities they need.

And if the rest of your family isn’t engaged in future planning yet, moments like this can be a good time to pull them in so everyone is thinking about how they can help. 

Getting everyone involved will prevent caregiver burnout and possibly another crisis where your loved one’s choices are suddenly limited.

Continuing to emphasize that your loved one’s autonomy and independence is what’s most important. 

Connect and engage by listening first

While broaching the right topic at the right time is a good start, it can still be easy for emotions to get high. 

Gaye’s advice applies here as well: let’s plan for that.

Don’t forget that these are tough topics. The future we’re discussing is one where someone we love can’t live independently or worse, is no longer with us. Who wouldn’t get emotional? 

When feeling run high, we bring our own personality and ways of coping into the mix, whether it’s responding with anger, sadness, grief, or denial. These are just normal reactions to difficult situations, so don’t judge yourself or anyone else for how they’re reacting. 

Just know yourself and prepare, because what happens when we’re not grounded isn’t always pretty. We’re all capable of being patronizing, irritated, manipulative or dramatic. And it could lead us to call in reinforcements and make our loved one feel like we’re ganging up on them.

All that can be prevented by simply listening. 

Start by asking your loved one questions about what they want, then listen carefully and repeat back what was said so they know they’ve been heard before you weigh in with your own thoughts, opinions and needs. They’re important too, but your loved one needs to know they’re the one who’s in charge of what’s going to happen. You can show that by listening.

Other ways to keep the conversation constructive are:

  • using other people’s situation as an example
  • providing print materials so they have something to refer to while reflecting
  • writing down your concerns if having a conversation isn’t working
  • offering to help with research into their options
  • avoiding words like ‘a home’ or ‘nursing home’

Remember to ask for help if you need it

If you’ve tried everything and feel like you’ve hit a wall, it could be time to bring in a third-party expert who your loved one will trust to be neutral and provide straightforward, helpful information.

Gaye Moffett has been advising families with care planning for decades and has likely heard a story similar to yours.

You can get in touch with Gaye by calling 613-761-7474 in Ottawa or in 905-836-6999 in GTA.