If You Plan to Visit Aging Parents, Bring a To-Do List

When change is needed, it’s important to keep your parent at the center of the conversation as much as possible, said Ms. Darden Gardyne, by listening to them and getting their input on finding solutions. “If you start dictating, it’s not going to go well,” she said. “It’s better to ask, ‘Who do you think can help us with this?’”

Turning to logic rather than emotion can also help address difficult topics, Dr. Ali said. If your parents are watching TV with the volume turned all the way up, for example, she said, you might ask them if they are having trouble hearing the doorbell, kitchen timer or telephone, as a way to start talking about the need for a hearing test or hearing aids.

Mr. Elias’s mother lives on her own with the help of aides, but the agency that employs them has been hard-pressed to send the same helpers consistently, a situation made worse by the pandemic, when people became afraid to care for others in their homes. To make things easier for all involved, Mr. Elias created “a manual” for aides that provides information about her medication and health issues, but also includes his mother’s favorite meals, her daily routines and the phone numbers of local relatives she can speak with if she is agitated. “She can panic if she sees a strange person in her home,” so these touchstones can help reduce her anxiety and make the caregivers’ job easier, Mr. Elias said.

Mr. Troy, of the Holocaust survivors program, advises adult children to befriend the people in their parents’ lives, including home health aides, neighbors, local repair people or friends. “Not only are they able to observe your loved one when you are away, they also can report any changes that your loved one may not share,” he said, or help them with small matters on your behalf.

Without events to attend and friends to visit, parents may have gotten into the habit of taking more naps or watching more TV, said Leslie Forde, founder of Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, a business that researches self-care for mothers and consults with companies on family-friendly policies. It may not be on their to-do list, but helping parents get active again can improve their physical and mental health. When Ms. Forde reconnected with her parents recently, she suggested they take walks around the playground where they enjoyed watching the children, do small errands on foot and use the stationary bike at home.

Even older parents who thrived during the pandemic can use some help. Richard and Roseanne Packard of Berkeley, Calif., both in their late 70s, took on tasks like resurfacing their deck themselves during the pandemic and had an N95 mask for each day of the week stored in labeled baskets so they could be used the following week. Still, when their daughter and college-age grandson visited from Wisconsin for five days in mid-May, they had work for them to do rearranging furniture, boxing up giveaways and dropping them at Goodwill, and moving heavy garden rocks. “We were helping them optimize,” said their daughter, Suzanne Swift. After being mainly housebound they were ready to make some changes, “but needed some tech-assistance and muscle to make it happen,” she said.

Creating medical and legal directives, wills and other late-life instructions is a daunting task for anyone. Without these documents though, older people’s wishes around medical treatment or their estate may go overlooked. It’s best to ask them “what do you want to have happen?” and let others take it from there, said Ivan Watannabe, a managing partner at Guardian Life Insurance. That will usually mean getting a lawyer or estate planner involved. Clarity around these discussions can reduce anxiety, improve the quality of health care and put in place a plan that deals with any inheritance tax implications.

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