How do you have that talk with your aging parents?


So, how do you know when to strongly urge the next step in your parents’ care? Perhaps they’ve lived in their home for many years and are comfortable. They are so independent and proud — getting upset whenever you bring up the inevitable.

First, what are the signs you should look for when worried about their safety and health?

– Is she eating well enough? Maintaining her weight and energy?

– How is his hygiene? Is he bathing, brushing his teeth, getting dressed every day?

– Are her medications being taken as prescribed?

– How many accidents is he getting into while driving?

– Are the bills getting paid each month?

– Is the house being kept up? Is the refrigerator full of rotting food?

Our parents’ biggest fear is growing old and becoming unable to live on their own anymore. My father was taking the car into the body shop 2-3 times a year to repair a fender or bumper, on his own nickel. Mom would complain about his driving, but kept silent about the accidents to me.

Sometimes being many miles away made it easier to avoid the issue. But, it was more evident with each visit I made home that they needed help. I hate to admit it, but I slowly began building my case with a mental list of their gradual decline.

The Talk

If you have siblings, it’s better to talk with your parents as a team. Of course, this means you need to come to a cohesive plan to offer your parents. If there is disagreement among the children, there will be holes in the plan and ways for your parents to skirt the issue.

Being an only child, I relied on my husband to help me with this. We planned one of our visits to be at least three days long so we could talk to them, and have time to explore some options before we left. It is important to know the options and the pros and cons of each before you get there, so do your homework.

It might be a good idea to talk to Mom and Dad while out to dinner, telling them ahead of time that there are a few things you’d like to talk about. It’s harder for them to walk away if you have the car keys.

In some circumstances, it’s better to talk to the most open-minded parent alone first. The conversation may go like this:

“Mom, how do you think Dad is doing physically? What about mentally? We are worried that you are taking on too much in caring for him. It would be awful if you ran yourself down to where you couldn’t take care of Dad, let alone yourself. We know you want to stay in your home as long as possible. There are some options we can look at together to get you and Dad help.”

Hopefully, this will open the topic up to discussion. If Mom doesn’t want to be the “bad guy” in telling Dad she needs help for his care, relieve her of that position. They have to live with each other day-to-day. At least you will have Mom prepped for the talk with both of them.

Patty Knittel is employed at Walla Walla University’s School of Nursing. An only child, she was caregiver for her aging parents, and writes about caregiving and other aging-related topics. She and her husband, Monty, live in Walla Walla. Email her at


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