Caring for Elderly Parents
How to care for elderly parents is a major concern of many Foreign Service families. Our concerns mirror those of other American families, but how to ensure good health care, find the right living situation, and handle legal questions is often complicated for Foreign Service families by being posted abroad. The distance involved makes it harder to get information and help so contingency planning is essential. Often Foreign Service families only have short visits during R & R or on home leave and hate to spend the precious time with their parents talking about serious business or unpleasant possibilities. Or we may be caught up in hectic preparations for an overseas assignment and not want to take the time to do contingency planning with parents. While it is difficult to discuss the issues of aging, the family who has discussed the options and agreed on plans will be better able to handle whatever happens. It will be worth the time taken, if there is an emergency. The ideal situation is when the parents take control of their own situations and make decisions in advance of an emergency. They should investigate the types of retirement options and decide which is most appropriate, make informed decisions about life-sustaining medical care, and make sure that documents, instructions, and powers of attorney are available to those who must take responsibility in an emergency. The American Association of Retired Persons recommends that elderly people use a document locator list (scroll to bottom of this page) to make sure their papers are in order. This list can then be given to the person(s) who will be responsible for them should an emergency arise. Going through the list with your parents should ensure that their wishes are understood. Communicating with Elderly Parents
Talking with our elderly parents about their living situations and the possible need for change is not always easy. A successful conversation depends to an extent upon the relationship we have with the parent, as well, of course, as on the parent's mental, emotional and physical condition. While many people put off serious conversations to avoid conflict or awkwardness, both parent and adult child may lose an opportunity for closeness, understanding, access to information that may affect the decision, and optimum peace of mind. To the extent possible, talk with your elderly parents gently and honestly about their wishes, their abilities and their options. Far more often than not, these conversations are helpful and put the adult child in a better position to make decisions later when the parent may not be able to do so. The following are suggestions for conversations with your elderly parent: * Share your own feelings, and reassure the parent that you will support them and can be depended upon to help them solve their problems. * Help the parent to retain whatever control is possible in making his or her own decisions. Respect and try to honor their wishes wherever feasible. * Encourage the smallest change possible at each step, so that the parent is more able to adjust to the change. * Educate yourself on legal, financial and medical matters that pertain to your parent as background for your conversations, including current knowledge on the aging process. * Respect your own needs - be honest with your parents about your time and energy limits. If this kind of conversation seems impossible or the situation and relationship with the elderly parent become overwhelming, professional counseling may be very helpful. You may also consider using the Department of State's resources to approach this delicate issue somewhat indirectly. Filling out FIVE WISHES for yourself and sharing your decisions with your parents may encourage them to open up on the subject. You may also wish to raise the subject of long-term care insurance as a practical matter. (For more information about FIVE WISHES and Long-Term Care Insurance, see...
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