Shakespeare wrote about the seven ages of man, in which he describes the human journey from helpless child to adult and back to helpless child again:
“…Infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, and second childhood, ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’”.
Anyone who has had to watch as their parents age knows how true this passage can be. And just as difficult as watching your parents age can be talking to them about it. No parent wants to show weakness in front of their child, or admit that they need help; and often their reluctance to talk is fueled by the fear that they’ll be “put away”, or have their freedom and independence taken from them. Adult children are reluctant to bring up the subject as well—they’re afraid of angering their parent, or sometimes their afraid of having their worst fears confirmed.
But ignoring the subject won’t make it go away, and waiting too long can be disastrous. The best way to talk to your parents about aging is to bring it up early, before fear and obstinance have set in. Having these discussions ahead of time prepares both parent and child for what may lie ahead, insures everybody is on the same page and that there are no surprises in store.
However, even with advance discussions and planning, it is likely that a few uncomfortable subjects will still come up. This article from Reader’s Digest has some advice on how to broach these difficult subjects (including the subject of estate planning), and even provides a few scripts to help get the conversation started. If you’re still uncomfortable, having a third party mediator can be helpful; a trusted doctor—or even your estate planning or elder law attorney—can be a calm voice of reason in deep emotional waters.