By Elaine Poker-Yount, Conference Director

Proactive Conversations imageWhere do I start when it comes to elder care?

Where do I start when my spouse, parents or in-laws
are changing or failing?

Where do I start when my loved one is showing signs
of dementia?

“Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start…” (Richard Rogers) 

 “Where do I start?” is one of the most frequently and consistently asked questions I get.  And it’s the biggest and hairiest question.  The truth is, it’s a little bit different for everybody and the most complicated because everyone’s path is different.  And that’s because we’re all starting at different points in a journey.  We all have different relationships, unique needs, distance limitations, awareness levels, degrees of cooperation, monetary considerations and most critical – time constraints when it comes to caring for our loved ones.

In a perfect world, we should all start a conversation proactively when we are all still healthy and aware.  A good percentage of the population is very proactive about getting legal documents, financial holdings, insurance and funeral preparations in order.  But most families do not have conversations about the daily life happenings that most affect our lives.

“How do you want it handled when…” is the start of some of the most important conversations we will have with a partner or a parent, or a child.  And the rest of that sentence has many endings…

…when it appears you shouldn’t be driving anymore?
…when you seem to be struggling with money or paying the bills?
…when your health starts failing and you don’t see it?
…when it’s not safe for you to be home alone anymore?

The list goes on and on. These are realities that change lives and relationships and cause stress because we make decisions to help based on what we feel or understand to be best.  But if we make a plan together and we know what our people want (even if it’s an ideal) it’s a lot easier for everyone moving forward.

“We’re not there yet, Dad, thank goodness, but I just read an article that kind of unnerved me… and it got me thinking.  How would you like us to handle it if you shouldn’t be driving anymore and you just don’t see it?”  “Mom, you’ve always been so good managing money, I learned so much from you.  Thank you.  We just had a conversation with our financial advisor who asked us what our back-up plan is.   That got me thinking… how do you want it handled if you can’t handle money anymore?  How would you like us to handle that?”

Ask these questions while you can so you know how to proceed with direction and permission, so you’re not winging it and fighting with others about the best road to take.  Families fall apart in these circumstances.  As parents should initiate these conversations with our kids.  It’s easier when the parents start it, because it demonstrates awareness as well as empowerment.  Children may be in denial about your aging process and sometimes unwilling to talk about it or worse, unable to hear what you’re saying.   When that happens write your thoughts/wishes down.  Outline them, date it and have a couple of witnesses if you’re worried about your family being a support team for you.  Put it in a sealed envelope for when someday turns into today!

If you’re at the place where it’s way too late to be proactive and we’re now being reactive, we need to start with identifying the changes we see and pin-pointing the actions of concern and the frequency of them.   Ideally at that point you can have a non-threatening conversation about what you’re seeing and come up with a game plan together.  If that conversation isn’t possible, assessing whether or not a loved one is safe in their environment.  Then connecting with those who interact with them regularly to see what they see.  Getting a game plan from there again will be individually determined.

Obviously, each situation is different and brings about unique challenges and opportunities – and truthfully, lack there-of. The key is, whether you’re able to start ahead of the game or you’re currently playing catch-up, yes, you need patience and love.  You also need that willingness to see multiple perspectives and have good and respectful discussions with all involved (even with yourself) while you are trying to maintain the dignity of those you love all in the process of providing safety!

Elaine Poker-Yount, CDP, Aging & Dementia Care Specialist

Reach her at 480-203-8548 or