Things to consider as our parents age

by Badgley Phelps | Aug 09, 2016

If you were born today, your life expectancy would be 78.8 years, says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We’re living longer—and so are our parents. According to the Social Security Administration, 34.9 million Americans are 65 or older, whereas that age group was only 12.7 million strong in 1950. That is why it’s important to plan not just for our own retirement, but for the care and well-being of our aging parents as well.

Rationally, we know it’s best to have the difficult conversations sooner rather than later. Having a road map to guide us through the tough decisions we may have to make on our parents’ behalf is critical. Often, though, we’re not ready to come to terms with our parents’ mortality and we’re uncomfortable with the intrusion on their privacy—or the awkwardness that comes from the reversal of the parent-child role. So, these critical conversations can be difficult.

Tackle it like a business challenge

One way to get over the emotional hurdle of talking with aging parents is to approach it like a business challenge. Set a family meeting and make sure all immediate family members can attend. Create an agenda for the meeting beforehand, then share it in advance with enough time for participants to review it and gather any relevant materials or questions they might want to share with the group. Stick to the planned agenda during the meeting and send out follow-up items afterward so that everyone is on the same page.

Cover the most important topics

The subjects that are most important to cover with your aging parents can be grouped into the Three Hs: Health, Home and Happiness.


Try to get a clear picture of the state of your parents’ health, as well as their wishes regarding life-support measures. Consider asking them to fill out a health history form so that you have a baseline understanding where their care is concerned—as well as details for your own medical family tree.

Notice things like poor grooming, diminished driving skills or loss of appetite, as these can be clues that parents may need more help than they’re currently getting. Ask permission to accompany your parents to their next doctor appointment to better acquaint yourself with the current care being received. Apps like CareZone and Elder 411 can help you track and share notes, medications and more.  

Ask whether your parents have executed durable powers of attorney for health care and advanced medical directives that indicate their wishes regarding life-support measures. Make certain that these wishes are fully understood by the person designated to communicate their wishes and also understood by other immediate family members.


In your family meeting, aim to determine your parents’ wishes concerning their living space. Are they willing to allow someone, whether it’s a family member or a hired worker, into their home to help out should they become unable to manage themselves? Under what circumstances could they see moving into an assisted living facility or a nursing home? Are they willing to scout-out assisted living facilities and nursing homes with you now, so that you know what’s available and their preferences should the need arise in the future? Take note of the state of your parents’ current home. An unkempt home can be a flag that their ability to care for themselves is deteriorating.

Wherever your parents hang their hat, take steps to prevent falls. Falling is by far the greatest risk to our aging parents’ ability to maintain their quality of life and independence. The CDC sites falls as the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. One out of three older adults falls each year, and approximately one out of 10 falls results in a serious injury such as a hip fracture or head injury that requires hospitalization. Muscle weakness, changes in hearing or vision, inactivity, dizziness, drowsiness or incorrect use of assistive devices can all contribute to falls. During your family meeting, take note of these risk factors and talk with your parents and siblings about fall prevention.


Studies indicate that older adults with “high purpose” are likely to have lower mortality rates, exhibit slower rates of cognitive decline or are less likely to develop disabilities—that having a purpose in life is a potent factor in improving and extending lives. Loss of interest may be a flag that parents are feeling less purpose-driven.

During your family meeting, discuss ways your parents are continuing to make a contribution and feel a part of their community. If they’re not doing much in this area now, you might want to suggest things such as mentoring, sharing their memories and experiences with the younger generation through oral or written recordings, taking on a new hobby, joining a new club or taking on a companion pet.

Discuss legal and financial concerns

No meeting is complete without a discussion of legal and financial concerns related to your parents’ care. Be sure to note the location of your parents’ important documents such as wills, Social Security and Medicare numbers, insurance policies and other vital documents. Find out whether they’ve executed durable powers of attorney, and under what circumstances they see those powers of attorney taking over the handling of their financial affairs. Discuss where financial assets are held and who advises them, and consider asking your parents to introduce you to their attorney, financial adviser, accountant and insurance agent. This could help things go more smoothly later on. Finally, consider starting a document locator list as well as a contact list of your parents’ advisers, trusted professionals and resources to call upon when needed, and share this as follow-up to the meeting.

Remember that planning for the care of your aging parents isn’t something you have to do alone. In addition to calling upon family members and friends to share the emotional and physical care needed for your parents, involve others such as the family physician, trusted clergy or financial adviser. When necessary, consider the professional counsel of a geriatric care manager.

Don’t expect to do everything right away: It will take time. Go slow, take small steps and allow your parents to retain as much control and involvement as possible to keep them engaged and thriving for years to come.


Subscribe to Our Blog

  1. Email address is required.
    You have entered an invalid email address.
  2. First name is required.
  3. Last name is required.

Search Our Blog