End-of-Life Talking Points for Families

shutterstock_308066726No one wants to talk about end-of-life issues. The very thought of broaching the subject is uncomfortable at best. The topic is difficult to face when considering the people we love.

“These conversations bring up the possibility that someday these important people in your life are going to be sick or frail and eventually die,” says Brian Carpenter, associate professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. “People don’t like to think about people they care about being infirm or more dependent than they are right now.”

Despite the discomfort, you should consider having these crucial conversations with your parent before they move to a senior living community.

Based on his research on family relationships in later life, Carpenter offers key talking points for families to cover in their end-of-life discussions. Whether you talk about these topics in person, over the phone, or online isn’t the issue; what matters is that you start talking and keep talking.

Talking Point #1: Housing 

The move to a senior living community takes some of the housing questions out of the equation. Still, you want to make sure that your family agrees about the community you’ve chosen and that you’ve taken your parent’s preferences into account. A Senior Living Advisor can ensure that a particular senior living community suits the needs of your loved one. You want your parents to feel comfortable with the decision, whether they move close by or far away.

Talking Point #2: Medical Care 

This point can get tricky, so try to set emotions aside and pay close attention to your loved one’s wishes. Carpenter recommends asking seniors what treatments they would not want in a difficult medical situation. For example, some seniors are adamant about having a DNR (do not resuscitate) order on file, which means that if they stop breathing or their heart stops beating, healthcare providers would not perform CPR.

Another important end-of-life medical question, says Carpenter, involves seniors’ ability to tolerate pain versus taking medication that might alleviate the pain but decrease alertness. Discussing the possibility of this situation before it happens helps everyone involved, so you can take comfort that you’re carrying out your loved ones’ wishes.

Talking Point #3: Finances 

Another important yet sensitive topic for families involves financial planning. Carpenter recommends asking your loved ones questions such as:

  • What are your investments, assets, and liabilities?
  • Where are your financial records located?
  • Who would you like to have managing your finances if you can’t do it yourself?

Hopefully, you will have already covered the first two questions in your financial preparation for senior living, but the last question is especially helpful when it comes to end-of-life issues. Most people hesitate to relinquish their independence—particularly financial independence. Your loved one will have an easier time handing over this responsibility to someone they know and trust.

Talking Point #4: End-of-Life Decisions 

Speaking with a loved one regarding the steps to take once they’ve passed can be the most difficult conversation of all. However, the discussion is just as necessary as the previous talking points. Carpenter recommends asking the following:

  • What do you want to have happen to your body after you die?
  • Do you want to donate your organs?
  • What kind of service do you want?

Though no one enjoys these discussions, your loved one will have some peace of mind in knowing that you understand and will respect their wishes. Consequently, you’ll make these decisions with confidence, knowing that they comply with your loved one’s final requests.

“At the end of these interventions, people say they feel, in some cases, more knowledgeable about what their family members want and what they prefer,” says Carpenter. “But more important, they say they feel better prepared to talk about them in the future. That’s really the outcome we care about most. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

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