'Families on the Brink:' Roundtable Discussion on How to Help Aging Relatives

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Death and Illness: Having the 'Conversation'

Bernard shared some advice on bringing up end-of-life decisions with a close relative.

"Talk about someone you know who's been in a difficult situation or even a televised program. ... Use that as a springboard for talking to your loved one about what their personal preferences are," she said.

Stewart said she sent her mother to a lawyer who also had an aging mother.

Morris said that she's 51, and that her daughter, who is 12, asks her all the time what she would prefer if she fell ill or died. Stewart said she's already had these conversations with her only daughter.

"The will. Oh, my gosh. I'm not at all afraid of any of these things because I am prepared," she said. "You don't want to leave anybody miserable if you die or you get really sick. You have to write it all down."

Resnick said that in the old days, parents shielded their kids from having to discuss or think about their death or getting sick. "We decided that was wrong," he said. He said that he invited his children to participate in decisions regarding his elderly parents and asked them how they would handle a similar situation regarding him.

Resnick suggested everyone had a health-care proxy to speak for them. "My dad didn't want to be it for my mom, because he felt he would be too conflicted," Resnick said. "So they both asked me if I would do it."

Stewart remembered her mother's death two years ago. Her mother had suffered two minor heart stoppages that scared her. She was hospitalized after the third one. "She whispered in my ear that this is it, she wants to rest. I wanted her to fight. ... But I had to respect that [and] let her go. You have to do that," she said.

Nursing Homes and Other Options

Morris said to start talking sooner rather than later about where an aging relative will live, whether it be an assisted-living care facility, a nursing home or at home with home care.

She said to be creative. "Get a foreign language student or somebody in your house who in exchange for rent is helping you around the house," she said.

Resnick said there were policies among established insurers that provided long-term care that didn't require a nursing home. "They realize. ... there are ways that they can provide care for less money than a nursing home, that will give you everything you need while you still live in your own home," he said.

Morris said that some elderly people were getting adjacent apartments with a shared door so they could help each other. Resnick said that some of the best nursing homes were in smaller communities. Stewart said that she took her mother to wonderful retirement villages and homes, but that her mother opted to stay at home so she could maintain her network of friends.

Morris said the mistake that many family members make getting together and telling their aging relative that they've found a great place for them to move to and that they are selling the house.

"Go in and ask questions and listen," she said. "Really hear what they have to say, because that will make them a little more open to listening."

Elderly Driving: A Sign of Independence

Resnick and Morris said that no longer being able to drive was "huge" for the elderly.

"It's sort of the beginning of the end in many people's minds," Resnick said. "It's an attack to their independence, because they can't go and come as they want."

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