Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Talking with aging parents over Thanksgiving

Many of us will be spending Thanksgiving with our parents and siblings—either in person or virtually. This time of the year when we’re all together provides us with the opportunity to have Essential Conversations with our parents and siblings, especially if we are noticing over the long weekend that our senior loved ones aren’t doing as well on their own as they have in previous years.

Below are some ideas for discussion, followed by some suggestions for how to have those conversations.

Essential Conversations to have with your parents:

  • One of the most important things you can discuss with your parents is making sure they have enough practical support if they have a health scare or emergency. Many people do not want to plan for possible issues such as these, but the pandemic demonstrated the need for proactive thinking about how we will stay safe and healthy.

  • This is also a good time to discuss with your parents different living options and to consider what might be best for them in the near future, as well as further down the road. They might want to think about retirement living so there are people available to help them if they need it, as well as ready opportunities for socialization and connection no matter the circumstances. One of the many benefits of retirement living is the mix of both privacy and the security, with people always on hand to help your parent if they need them. And of course, there is the significant benefit of not having to worry about household maintenance or daily chores!

Tips for having Essential Conversations with your parents:

  • To make your conversations with your parents more effective and harmonious, consider starting them by sharing that you want to support your parents’ quality of life, both today and in the future.

  • You might also share with them that by being proactive and doing some planning together, they are much more likely to be able to make their own choices. When people have to make care or living decisions in a crisis, they often don’t have the same level of choice as when they think about those things ahead of time. Again, you can reassure them that your goal is to help them maintain control over their lives—that’s why you are having these discussions!

  • Remember that the prospect of change raises feelings of vulnerability, anxiety and uncertainty for many people. You may decide it’s best to raise the topic with your parents and siblings around the Thanksgiving holiday, and then choose a time to revisit it in a couple of weeks. That will allow everyone to have time to think about ways to prepare for the next few months, as well as consider living arrangements for the longer term.

Thanksgiving is a time we reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. May your Thanksgiving—however you are celebrating it—be filled with gratitude and laughter! And may you find the opportunities to have conversations that may allow your parents to have more joy and ease during the next few months and in the years ahead.