ColumnistsLong-term Care

Let’s Get a Conversation Going!

By Susan Suben

Let's talkI went to Lowe’s in August and was stunned to see Christmas decorations. Trees, wreaths and elves were decking the walls. Then I began to see ghoulish costumes displayed in September for Halloween.

Every year, it seems, holidays are being celebrated — or should I say marketed — earlier and earlier. What happened to anticipation?

That being said, there are some things that are never too early to plan for.

Long-term care falls into that category. It’s never too soon to talk and make plans in advance for a very real risk. If you missed this chance during the holidays, make sure to discuss this necessary but hard topic as soon as you can. Whether you are an adult child talking to your parents or a parent talking to your adult children, there is much to gain by talking as soon as possible.

Back in 2009, Genworth, a company focused on helping customers navigate caregiving options, started a campaign called, “Let’s Talk.” Its goal was to help individuals talk candidly about long-term care. Its intention was to guide loved ones through sensitive conversations about “potential long term care needs and solutions…making those interactions easier, more productive and often emotionally rewarding.”

The campaign provided wonderful tips on how to get the conversation started. The tips outlined below have maintained their relevancy over the years because we are living longer and have a higher likelihood of needing long-term care. They can help you and your family feel better prepared to make good decisions and be more confident that wishes will be fulfilled should an illness occur.

“Let’s Talk” had an underlying message: “I want to know what you think. I am here for you. I care. “

• Be brave. Most people are waiting for someone to start the conversation. If you are respectful, your outreach will be welcome.

• Be open. Your relationship with the person you are talking to will affect how the conversation plays out. Take that into consideration but try to be as open and direct as possible. The more you communicate, the more you learn.

• Ask questions. Your goal as an adult child is to find out how your parents are feeling and what they are thinking about as they age. What are their greatest fears and concerns? As a parent, find out what your adult children are most worried about should you become ill and what they perceive their role to be if you do need care.

• Wait and really listen. Long-term care planning is a big issue with many solutions. Give the person a chance to think things through and perhaps gather information. The conversation may be on going before you each get to know what the other person is thinking and feeling.

• Discuss someone else’s situation. This could be a good icebreaker. Maybe a friend or relative has experienced a long-term care situation. What was their experience like? What choices did they make?

• Have a sense of humor. Long- term care planning is not a cheerful topic but if you interject a little humor, smile and be relaxed, you’ll be able to sigh with relief that you got through it.

One thing not to do is start the conversation with pre-conceived notions. Adult children often times try to make plans or decisions ahead of time about what their parents’ future should look like. Parents often don’t ask their adult children what they are capable of doing. The conversation might hit a road block because parents are oftentimes non-communicative about their financial situation. They may feel that their privacy and independence is at risk.

Both sides should be respectful of one another and this is achieved by asking questions, understanding feelings and discussing an array of options.

“Let’s Talk” stressed that emotions, past hurts and habits should not pose an obstacle to the conversation. Timing is everything. The conversation should be as neutral as possible during a time when everyone is calm and rested and interruptions are minimal.

The “Let’s Talk” campaign included a very well worded excerpt: “Talking about worst-case scenarios can be oddly freeing. It’s strange, but true. People dread these conversations, dodge them and come up with a dozen reasons why they haven’t had them. But once the silence is broken, it’s like a weight is lifted. The words have been spoken. And yet, no one was injured. There is a sense of calm, knowing that we are stronger and can weather the storm. Having talked, you are free to enjoy the time ahead. And often, a new bond is forged.”

Susan Suben, MS, CSA, is President of Long Term Care Associates, Inc. and Elder Care Planning. She is a consultant for Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Company. Suben can be reached at 800-422-2655 or by email at