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Having the long-term care talk


Discussing long-term care plans and options for a person’s later years can be a challenge. However, having an open, honest conversation can provide clarity and reassurance to you and your loved one. This article offers tips on how to broach the subject and how to have a productive conversation.

Be prepared

Discussing long-term care plans and options for a person’s later years can be a challenge. Take some time to observe the person’s behavior and living habits before bringing up plans for long-term care. This can help assess what might be the most important first steps in bringing in help. For example, if someone has difficulty remembering to take medications on time, or sometimes forgets if they have taken medication, you’ll be able to make that a topic in your conversation.

In addition, know what options are available, financially. Most adults would prefer to age in place, but not everyone has the same set of resources to help them during this stage of life. 

Have a conversation starter

AARP recommends bringing up a recent article or newscast about long-term care, or discussing a friend or acquaintance who has recently had a change in their long-term care.1 This can ease the person’s mind and make the conversation just that: a conversation about a common enough topic, rather than an accusation or an attack on their current lifestyle.

Be open

Try not to have too many hard-and-fast assumptions about the person’s long-term care before you start the conversation. They may have plans that you aren’t aware of, and they may have already begun implementing them. Too, they may be worried that they won’t have a say in their own long-term care planning, and be apprehensive to talk about it. Using “I” statements rather than “You” statements can make listeners feel more at ease. For example, saying “I worry that you don’t have a plan for when you can’t bathe yourself” will help steer the conversation to long-term planning, and should feel less accusatory.

Ask questions

Part of being open and empathetic is listening to the person. If you know their wishes and plans, it makes it easier for everyone to come to an agreement and start working together on long-term issues like home renovations and financial planning. Here are a few sample questions to start the conversation:

  • Where do you want to receive care? Many people prefer to remain in their home, so discussing this now will help determine if that is possible, and how to make it so.
  • What type of changes would need to be made to the home to provide long-term care? For example, do the showers or stairs need to be fitted to accommodate physical needs? What about access to beds, stoves and other appliances?
  • Who will provide care? Will this be a family member, hired help, volunteers or a combination of these? This will help all parties manage expectations and avoid conflict down the road over who is responsible for care.
  • How will long-term care be paid for? Does the person already have money set aside to cover expenses associated with long-term care, or is it time to review some financing options?

Make it a long-term conversation

No problem can be solved in an instant, and it takes time to tackle big projects like planning and implementing long-term care. A person’s needs and circumstances may change over time, so have the conversation as early and often as you can. Check in regularly to make sure there aren’t any surprises. If talking about long-term care becomes a regular part of the conversations, the concept won’t seem so daunting, and each challenge can be approached with level heads and a clear plan in mind. 

Related information 

Investigate long-term care options

Long-term care planning

Paying for long-term care

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