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Aging parents and adult children need to have “the talk”
by Iris Valanti, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh

For adult children with aging parents, it’s natural to worry about their safety, well-being or care. At Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh (JF&CS), older adults and their loved ones are provided with an extensive array of services, resources and supports to help them age well.

As loved ones age, initiating an open discussion and educating yourself about resources in your community that help keep older adults safe and comfortable, and in their own homes living as independently as possible, is crucial.

Stefanie Small, director of clinical and elder care services at JF&CS, works with older adults in the community and their adult children to help them cope with, manage and find solutions for the challenges that are associated with aging.

"We believe in helping seniors stay in their homes for as long as they can,” Small said. “Adult children need to find ways to approach the necessary conversations, hopefully in a way that ensures their aging loved one feels supported and that informed decisions are being made together.”

Small said the following tips can be a good place to start:

Conduct a walk-through of the home – Ensure the physical living space is safe by considering what may pose challenges or dangers in the home. Resolve issues like stairs with sturdy handrails, grab bars in the shower, and remove unnecessary tripping hazards like small rugs and other clutter.

Create a more manageable living space - Stefanie suggests adult children and their parents consider "downsizing" belongings, furniture and paperwork that have accumulated over time. People react differently to downsizing. Some are happy to “lighten up” and some can’t stand the thought of giving up a single memory-laden item. "Do this with older adults, rather than for them, so they still feel a sense of control over their belongings and wishes,” Small said. "It's also a way to become acclimated with important information, so you know where the checkbooks, medical records and insurance cards are in case of an emergency."

Have conversations about important legal documents - Encourage your parent or elderly loved ones to consider the importance of creating wills and advance directives, and establishing a health care power of attorney if they haven't already done so. Consider having an honest and open discussion with older loved ones about their wishes in the event of an emergency.

Seek out support and community resources – In Pittsburgh, consider reaching out to JF&CS's geriatric care coordinators, who can provide a family consultation at the JF&CS office to help facilitate communication, provide expert suggestions or solutions and connect families with additional support and resources. "Family consultations open the door for communication in a neutral setting" Small said. "The neutrality of the location and the geriatric care coordinator help people realize that we're there to help them choose the best path." If you live in another region, use the internet and your local department of human services, or aging agencies to find resources in your area.

Above all, Small advocates for early involvement and open communication as the best way to approach the challenges of aging and maintain relationships between adult children and their elderly loved ones.

"Get involved while your parents or loved ones are still independent," Small said.

JF&CS approaches aging from all perspectives, to give families options instead of ultimatums. Through programs like home care coordination, licensed home care registry (Caregiver Connection) and the AgeWell Pittsburgh resource hotline, many services are available to help our community's older adults obtain the highest level of independence, comfort and safety.

Find out more by visiting www.jfcspgh.org or by calling our AgeWell Pittsburgh hotline at 1-877-243-1530, toll-free, or call 412-422-0400.

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