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Plan ahead: Take the time to sit down and talk

To the editor,
Well, it’s time we have that talk.
It may feel uncomfortable. You might be embarrassed and there could be some giggling about it as well, but it’s imperative we have this talk. No, I am not talking about the birds and bees. I’m referring to talking with our loved ones, whether a spouse, parent, in-law, grandparent or a friend, about establishing a plan for them as they age.
We plan which college to attend. We plan our vacations, weddings, get-togethers, retirements; but we do not take time to plan the things we will need help with as we age and what different types of services we may require.
It’s difficult to make decisions about what to do with your loved ones when standing in a hospital room after a traumatic experience. Nursing Home? Hospice? Assisted Living? Do you split up caregiving responsibilities amongst family members to help out?
By this time, you are too late. This family meeting needs to happen with the care receiver when they can be an active participant in the conversation; after all, they are the one it affects the most.
A family meeting, in this sense, is meant to be an open discussion about caring for a family member or friend. By having this meeting early, you can identify possible barriers and find solutions. Here are some tips to having a successful family meeting:
Address the most critical issues first; they should receive full attention:
Be honest, be respectful, listen to the care receiver. Remember, ultimately it is their decision.
Turn off cell phones or other potentially distracting items and use “I” statements to express your needs, feelings, concerns.
When is the best time to hold a family meeting? You never know when an emergency is going to happen, that’s why it’s so important to have the conversation sooner, rather than later.
A few things to be aware of that may require a meeting immediately:
Concern about a loved one's health, a change in the amount of assistance needed, and family or friends from out-of-town are visiting or are asking questions. The worst thing that can happen is not having a conversation.
Because guess what? We all age, we all want to age successfully, and we want our loved ones to know what our expectations are. Also, stating that once someone hits a certain age, they “get put in a home” is not having a successful plan. It’s demeaning to our loved ones and our caregiving role.
Your challenge is to have the conversation. It can be formal, informal, or even a quick call to say, “Hey, I think we need to talk.”
Sincerely,

Jason W. Swanson,
executive director, HSE,
Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging