How to plan for the future with your aging loved one

Alison Brody
Analyst
Public Insight Network

In Nancy Fiedelman’s experience, one of the hardest things about caregiving is knowing where to begin.

Fiedelman is the head of the Aynsley Group, a Washington, D.C., area company that provides support for adults with aging relatives, as well as older adults planning for future needs. She is also a source in the Public Insight Network and recently attended a public forum on caregiving hosted by WAMU and the Public Insight Network.

Fiedelman’s advice to adults with aging relatives is to begin the caregiving process before the need arises.

“Adult offspring tend not to plan ahead,” she says. “Usually they are thinking about things in the middle of the crisis, they don’t have the time to properly explore all of their options and they often make crisis-driven decisions, which sometimes become not ideal decisions.”

The best way to avoid this, she says, is to sit down and talk about the wants and needs of your aging loved one.

In this interview excerpt, she shares some thoughts on how to best have those conversations:

“You know, we’re all unique, so what works in one situation with one person may not work with someone else.

“People have to look at what their particular relationship is with their parent and what their mode of communication is. If you read on the Internet that says “you should have the conversation and then plow ahead” you might be left thinking “why didn’t it work?” How people approach a parent makes a difference.

“Remember that no matter how well informed somebody is and what their profession is in life, when it comes to dealing with these issues, people are in deep water. They don’t know how to tread. So I encourage people to arm themselves with a lot of information. It can either be used as they’re helping their family members or sometimes they just need to educate themselves so they know what questions to ask and what issues to discuss.

“During these talks, people can forget the basic stuff of listening and being respectful. Also, there’s a difference between expressing a concern about something and telling someone what they need to do. And sometimes we have to recognize that our loved one is not going to do what we might think is best, or maybe what we and twenty other professionals might think is best, but, unless it’s an issue of safety, we have to respect their choices.

“These are not conversations that you can do in 20 minutes and then move on. People have to prioritize what the biggest concerns are and maybe focus on certain items in an initial conversation and then revisit it in a subsequent conversation.

“My mantra is always for people to think ahead and plan ahead. Talk early, talk often. And listen.”

>> To read more stories about how sources in the Public Insight Network have handled this conversation, see Addressing the ‘elephant in the room’: Conversations about end-of-life choices.

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Alison Brody Analyst
Public Insight Network

Alison Brody spends her day surrounded by stories from people all across the country. She works with journalists from newsrooms like NPR and The New York Times to help turn these insights into meaningful journalism (i.e., not from a press release or a political speech).

Before joining the PIN team, Alison worked as a PIN analyst at the public radio show Marketplace. For two years she asked questions about credit card debt, employment, unemployment and health insurance. She's also worked at Los Angeles’ public television station, where she helped produce an international news pilot and a digital prototype that was half game, half social network, aimed at teaching students about the U.S. Constitution.