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How to Start an End-of-Life Care Conversation
Friday, October 23, 2020

woman talking to elderly mother

Talking to a Loved One About End-of-Life Care

Early Conversations Promote Aging With a Plan

Many of us find it difficult to discuss end-of-life care and wishes. Simply put, conversations about dying can remind us of our own mortality, or that of a loved one, and make us feel sad. As a result, many people avoid the topic.

Consider a 2018 study by The Conversation Project. The study found that more than 90 percent of people thought it was important to talk about end-of-life wishes with their loved ones, but only 32 percent had done so. Of those surveyed, 53 percent also said they would be relieved if a loved one started the conversation.

While you may not relish the thought of discussing your parents or loved ones’ end-of-life care, or your own, this conversation is so critical for families—and, if avoidable, it should not be prompted by a medical emergency. Rather than waiting until a loved one is incapacitated or dying, starting the conversation early can help an individual to age with a plan. Why is this important?

Aging with a plan:

  • Gives peace of mind to the individual and their family

  • Avoids the need to make major decisions about care under highly stressful circumstances

  • Allows difficult questions to be carefully considered and researched over time

  • Prompts families to determine their financial plan for a loved one’s care

Think of an end-of-life care conversation not as a discussion about death but rather how a parent or loved one can live safely and happily for as long as possible. 

Starting the Conversation

Even if your parent or loved one has not prompted the conversation, they will likely be grateful that you did. Gently suggest starting a discussion and coordinate the availability of key family members or caregivers to participate. We suggest the following steps to starting an end-of-life care conversation.

  1. Ask everyone to consider the questions they would like to address in the conversation, and write them down. Questions may include:

  • Does your parent intend to live at home as long as possible? 
  • Do they plan to move to an assisted living community? 
  • How will they determine when to move? 
  • Who will pay for their senior living care? 
  • What do they want to happen to their current home?
  • Is selling their home to help pay for expenses a possibility?
  • At what point will they relinquish control of their finances to a child or designated relative?
  1. Plan a comfortable setting for the discussion, such as gathered around a familiar kitchen table or, if weather allows, take the conversation outdoors.

  2. Make sure your parent or loved one has an opportunity to state their wishes, fears, and concerns regarding their senior care needs and end-of-life wishes.

  3. For any questions that could not be answered, look outside of your family for relevant professionals or resources that can provide input. For example, you may call a local assisted living community to ask about enrollment processes and requirements. You may consult a financial advisor to help determine your loved one’s assets and how those can be used to pay for care later on. Make sure each person understands what information they are responsible for gathering.

  4. Agree to a time to continue the conversation. For example, plan to regroup in a month and discuss once you have more information.

Sometimes the most difficult part of an end-of-life care conversation is simply starting it. We encourage you, however difficult it may be, to have these conversations now, as it will save significant stress later on. If we can offer any support or provide any answers to questions you have about assisted living and other senior care services, please contact our team.