Going Home and Having "The Conversation"

Todd Washburn |

Christmas and Hanukkah are fast approaching. Along with Thanksgiving, these are the big annual holidays when we gather and reconnect with family near and far. A lot of us head home. There’s a lot to be said for going home. The sights, sounds and smells are familiar and bring back childhood memories. It’s a chance for parents to show their kids what it was like where they grew up. And it’s a chance for you to catch-up on family gossip, see new babies and how the others have grown, and to see how Mom and Dad are doing.

For many years going home was likely just a relaxing experience. Mom attempts to spoil you (and the grandchildren). But then you go home one year and things aren’t exactly the way you expected. Not bad, not horrible, just not quite right. Maybe your favorite candy isn’t out on the table, or there are a few more dust bunnies under the couch than normal, or Dad has told you the same story for the third time— today. It’s still an enjoyable visit, but your radar has been activated. From here on out you’ll be watching a little more closely— and maybe worrying a bit more too.

So what’s happened here? Nothing unusual really. Your parents have just gotten older. Some folks are blessed with great health right up until the end while others experience a slightly different glide-path, some steeper than others. We need lots of help when we’re very young and often some degree of help when we’re getting older. It’s natural, but no less disconcerting for the children who may need to provide that help.

So what do you do in this situation, and what should you be worried about? The very first thing is to make sure they aren’t a hazard to themselves or others. Does the stove get turned off? Do they fall asleep with a cigarette in their hand? Do they seem to still know which pill is which and when to take each? Can they still safely handle the stairs? These and similar signs may necessitate immediate action to avoid hurting someone. If they’re in an apartment or condo, a fire in their unit can hurt a lot of other people. Mom getting confused about Dad’s medication can really hurt Dad.

But what if it isn’t that serious? For now the place is a little dirtier, they forget some minor things, or they move a little slower. Is it time to panic? Probably not, but it is time to start doing your homework. What are the options for outside help? How will they feel about that? How do you approach them about your concerns? How are they financially? Can they afford help or will the cost fall to you? Is anyone taking advantage of them financially? All these questions are important to consider and important conversations to have— but in a manner that doesn’t make them feel threatened with losing their freedom and dignity.

This is certainly not something you have to do alone. There are professionals out there to help with situations like these. Financial planners are quite familiar with this situation. In fact, we sometimes see it first in our clients as we notice changes in the way they handle their finances. If you are facing this situation, or think it might be coming, I’m here to help. Contact me to schedule a consultation sooner rather than later — for them and for you.