Dear Carol: My mom is 90-years-old, lives alone and does quite well. She has always been very independent and has never been willing to talk about what her preferences are if a time comes when she needs care. My siblings and I want to do the best we can for her, but she does not even have a living will or Power of Attorney. We feel like our hands are tied since she will not discuss finances or the kind of care she’d like when the time comes that she does needs help. Whenever we bring up the issue, she says, “I’ll get to it.” – Franny
Dear Franny: Your mom has likely outlived most of her friends, and those who are left are probably battling illness or frailty. She may feel that discussing the fact that she will likely need care will just hasten the onset of the frailty she sees in her friends. Her friends can be an asset. Do you know anyone she is close to who receives care? If so, try using their situation to open up the conversation and break through her fear and denial.
Unless one of you adult children can care for her, you need to discuss in-home care, assisted living and nursing home as options. Don’t promise you’ll never put her in a nursing home. Tell her that you will do everything you can to follow her wishes, but that her health and safety are your main concern.
Making the decision to have one’s legal house in order is one of the kindest things a person can do for their family. I often recommend adult children make an appointment to get their own legal work done, and then tell their elders about their intent. Anyone can have an accident or become seriously ill, so it’s a good move for you, anyway.
This may be the push your mom needs. If you approach her in a light manner, it’s quite likely she’ll say that she wants to go along with you and have her legal papers drawn up, too. This should include a Power Of Attorney for financial purposes, a POA for health (a health directive with a living will) and a will for the distribution of her assets.
Discussing the kind of care people would like should they need help, and having legal papers drawn up, isn’t fun but it’s necessary. If you can’t get through to her on your own, you and your siblings can approach her as a team. Emphasize the fact that you’ll all have more peace of mind if you get this discussion out of the way. Then you can get on with the business of living.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.