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Key questions to ask your elderly parents

Posted on 14/12/2017

The festive period is all about family, fun and food, and for many of us, it can mean seeing relatives that we don’t see as often as we would like. If you live apart from your elderly parents, you may not notice immediately if they are starting to struggle with their day-to-day activities. Coming together over Christmas and spending some time together, might highlight any areas where they are having trouble or you may suddenly realise that they are getting older and may require some form of help in the future.

Whatever their current health condition, there are some key questions that you should think of asking your parents while you have some time with them. It’s incredibly tough as the child to ask your parents, but it’s important to have an honest chat about future care and support so that you are aware of their preferences and thoughts.

It’s not the most pleasant of topics to bring up during a celebration, and we’re not suggesting it’s the right time to chat over the turkey, but if you find a quiet time over the festive period or early in the new year, here are your key questions to ask your elderly parents.

Do you have any hobbies or activities to keep you busy?

This is quite an innocuous question and fairly easy to slip into conversation. Loneliness among the elderly is on the rise and it can lead to all manner of physical and mental health problems. This is particularly important if you have one parent on their own, but staying active and busy in later life is still relevant to couples who live together as well. It is good for the mind and the soul to have things to focus on, and it gives you an indication of how independent your parents are and also whether they are happy. You could chat about how they plan on keeping up with the hobbies or activities as they get older, discussing things like transportation if need be.

Do they feel safe at home?

As we get older, the risk of accidents increases and you are looking for ways to make your parents’ home as safe and risk-free as possible. They may mention that they are always tripping over the same bit of carpet, or that they are struggling with the stairs, which enables you to look into practical measures to adapt their home. It could be simple repairs, introducing mobility aids, such as handles for the bath or a stair lift, or it could be more advanced adaptions. You should also check that they have a secure front door, a personal alarm in case of emergency, and working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Falls at home are a big cause of problems in older people, so prevention is essential.

Have they thought about their care preferences?

It might be that they won’t need care for many years, or maybe the time has come to find some support at home, but it’s important that you know what your parents’ preferences are when it comes to care. There are many care and support options these days. They may prefer to have someone they know pop in from time to time, get a paid carer from an agency, contract or employ a paid carer, or even consider residential care. Getting an idea of what they would like in their later life means that it is easier to make decisions when the time comes.

Do they have a plan for paying for care?

So many of us leave it too late to think about how we will pay for our care requirements in later life, so you should find out if your parents have given any thought to the topic. They may have plans to downsize their home and release equity, they may have money set aside for this purpose or they may not have a plan yet. There are various options, such as specific care annuities that they can put capital into and receive an income for care purposes from, or they could look at a high-interest savings account. Ideally the money needs to be somewhere where it can be accessed easily if the situation changes rapidly, and care and support is needed in a hurry. If they have no assets, they may qualify for help from the local authority to pay for care if they have a significantly serious need. They may also have to think about a funeral plan, which is a horrible subject, but having money put aside means peace of mind that other family members won’t struggle to meet the costs when the time comes.

Do they have a will?

This is a tough question, as it can appear to be about money-grabbing, but if your parents have specific plans for their estate, then they need to have it written down in a will so that their wishes can be upheld. If they want their children and grandchildren, other family members or a charity to receive a portion of their estate, then they need to make this clear. They may also wish to make a Living Will or Advanced Directive, which helps to ensure that their wishes are met in terms of medical treatment or intervention if they are not in a position to make clear those wishes themselves. 

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