Advice for Tricky Talks with Aging Parents


Cary, NC — How do you start that delicate conversation with your parents about aging, living accommodations and other necessary topics? Nancy Caggia, a certified Senior Real Estate Specialist, shares her experience, knowledge and advice on the matter.

The Silver Tsunami is Coming…

Did you know that, according to a recent Forbes study, Raleigh is the second fastest aging population in any U.S. city? With more than 22% of Cary’s residents being over 65, and with many of us being in our forties and fifties, chances are that lots of folks in our area are facing the challenges associated with aging or with aging parents.

Starting the Conversation About the Future

We might fear resistance, silence, or conflict when talking about aging and the unknown future, but we should fear a crisis more. Unexpected health emergencies or accidents that result from a lack of proper planning can negatively impact several generations. Small, simple conversations are a great way to start preparing for the unknown.

Set the TEMPO

Talk Early, Talk Often, an online resource for those at a loss of how to bring tricky subjects–like changing living arrangements–up with aging parents, suggests setting the “TEMPO.”

Timing — You’ll want to time your conversations appropriately so that you and your parent are not distracted and that you’ll have adequate time to talk and listen patiently.

Experience — Often, you can open the door to talk to your parents by tying your specific topic to direct experience. For example:

Dad, when you were kind enough to pick up Sally from day camp, she said you were having trouble making turns. Were you tired that day? I’m concerned about how you’re feeling about driving these days.

Motivation — Your motivation needs to be solely for safety, well-being and quality of life. Both theirs and yours.  Plans for the future need to hold your parents’ best interest as the goal–but your life and your family matter as well. I found some great tips and videos online that suggest which words to use and which to avoid.

Place — When planning for the conversation, make sure you create a “safe space” where no one feels trapped. In other words, the holiday dinner table is not the place to talk to your parents about a sensitive issue. Instead, try a restaurant or coffee shop.

Outcome — You don’t need to come up with an answer today. What you’re trying to establish is an ongoing, honest conversation. You’re laying the ground work to understand your parent’s feelings, wishes, and needs. Find out what they are having a hard time with in their everyday life.

Take Your Time

You want to get information and share information. But this will happen bit by bit over time.


Story by Nancy Caggia. Photo by marchasselbalch.

4 replies
  1. Scott Korbin
    Scott Korbin says:

    My late business coach, Dan Taylor, of Blessed Memory, and a former Trainer at The Strategic Coach(R) Program, wrote a book called The Parent Care Solution. In it, he describes The Parent Care Conversation, a creation inspired by his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

    I personally used The Parent Care Solution to guide my parents through their last 10 years of life, and inspired them to develop a thoughtful document, which they presented to their Estate Planning Attorney to create their Living Trusts, Wills, as well as their Health Care and Living Will Directives.

    It was remarkably “transforming.” My father had been the quintessential procrastinator, and prior to our “Conversation,” was in complete denial of his mortality, or perhaps more importantly, of his need to get his financial house in order.

    The Parent Care Conversation is what allowed me to lead both of my parents to very clear thinking and confident decision making. As a result, the creation of their Trust eliminated nearly any controversy between 7 siblings who each had their own perspective on what was best for my parents during their remaining lifetimes. It also made clear their desires as to what they wanted to accomplish with their remainder estate.

    While I am uncertain if The Parent Care Solution is still in publication, I’m always to delighted to share my personal experiences with individuals faced with Aging Parents who have not yet made these important decisions, and with Financial Advisers and other Real Estate Brokers like me, who wish to guide our Clients through this life changing process.

  2. Nancy Ruffner
    Nancy Ruffner says:

    Thank you for keeping this oh-so-important topic top of mind. There are many good lead-ins to conversations on Talk Early, Talk Often. In my work as a Professional Advocate for seniors and their families the lead-in that I most often employ is asking the elders about their experience, kind of along the lines of seeking advice. “Dad, with our baby on the way we will need to update our wills (or financial planning, or advance directives, etc.); have you and Mom done this recently?”, or “When do I know to update Legal/Financial documents? How often do you review yours?”. Sometimes I take it further to get folks thinking more about taking their own action” “Mom, when will you know it is time to (stop driving)?”. Another good lead-in might be “My neighbor said he’d completed his financial planning with a professional, and I need to do this. Have you worked with anyone?”.
    Let’s keep talking-

  3. Cynthia P. Barnett
    Cynthia P. Barnett says:

    I notice how individual and different are the answers for each aging loved one. This helps me to express humility and adopt a listening mode: never implying that I know what’s right and they don’t.

    Wonderful and unusual answers appear when this happens. One friend bought a nearby modest home where her mother could be professionally cared for, comfortably and nearby. This daughter found two or three friends who also had aging mothers, and together the families financed a lovely group home environment for these ladies for many years.

  4. Gary Brown
    Gary Brown says:

    For my own extended family, my wife & I have filled out one of these 8-page forms and given it to each family, for the future, both hard-copy & soft-copy.

    I keep an encrypted copy on key chain USB drive and also keep a copy in a fire-proof lock-box.

    Free download:

    (no endorsement implied for the hosting site)

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