How to Help Your Clients with Aging Parents Do the Right Thing

By February 14, 2018Professional Tips
How to help your clients with elderly parents do the right thing

Are your clients worried about their aging parents but they don't know what to do? Here’s how to improve the odds that they will get their parents the in-home care they need and deserve.

Whether you’re a financial planner or an attorney, chances are that listening to clients’ stories about their struggles with aging parents is all in a day’s work.

You may be privy as they air concerns about how to manage their parents’ increasing needs and the strain this puts on their daily lives. Perhaps they’ve had to reschedule your latest meeting a few times because their mom fell and needed tests, or are worried about how to finance the care she might need. Maybe they also confide in you about the emotional toll this all takes.

All the while, they wonder aloud if they should step in to help. And if so, how…

For all the wondering, though, you may have noticed that it’s often extremely challenging for them to move ahead and take action. It’s not surprising: helping elderly parents is a complicated and often overwhelming process that can be riddled with conflict–both internal, and between aging parents and their grown children. There’s usually no clear “right” answer, and the options themselves seem far from ideal: move an elderly parent to an assisted living facility where they might not be happy? Invest in home care? Just thinking about it can make anybody’s head spin.

So the grown children get stuck.

Hearing these dilemmas, you may wish there was something you could do to help ease the process along. It’s only natural: you care about your clients and their peace of mind. Moreover, in doing so, you could potentially make a difference.

As it turns out, you can! It’s just a matter of recognizing the right opportunity and knowing what to say.

What drives people to seek advice about elderly parents?

Often, it takes a trigger event for clients to share concerns about their elderly parents living at home. Something traumatic like a scare about their parents’ health and safety. For example:

  • Your client’s parent was scammed out of a large sum of money.
  • Their parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other debilitating illness, and time is running out for them to get their legal and financial house in order.
  • Your client is worried that their aging parents are growing more isolated and their morale is low.
  • Your client’s parent is no longer able to manage essential activities such as cooking, paying bills or safely driving a car.

When your client confides in you about these or other such events, you might instinctively make suggestions about how they can help. But despite your best intentions, your advice may fall on deaf ears. Your client may continue sharing their concerns over time without ever acting.

How can you improve the odds that your conversations might invite your client to take action?

Start by exploring your client’s needs, wants, and motivations.

As a planner, an attorney or other services professional, an essential part of your job is to understand what your clients need, what they want, what motivates them, and what is important to them when it comes to finances and plans for the future.

When it comes to talking with them about aging parents, the same fundamentals apply. Start out with a conversation about these very things. What do your clients want concerning their parents? What do they need, what do they hope for and how would they like to see the situation unfold over time?

Once you understand where they are coming from, you can have a meaningful conversation about how to help.

This discussion might be slow-moving. Remember: the underlying emotions are complicated. To increase the odds that a client with aging parents will listen and accept your guidance, it helps to understand some of the deep-seated desires and needs your client might be experiencing. By evoking these directly or indirectly, you stand a better chance of breaking through.

Six primary desires that motivate your clients.

1. The desire to make the best decision.

Most adult children want to do right by their aging parents. They want to help. Their struggle comes from being unsure about the best option for their family’s situation. For instance, they might see their parents losing the ability to clean house, drive, or pay bills on time. But at the same time, they might also worry that a nursing home or assisted living facility is too expensive, and will restrict their parents’ control and freedom in a way that’s difficult and painful. Often, they don’t realize that there is a third option: in-home care services managed by geriatric care managers.

These clients need your clarity, support, and reassurance. They need to feel that they’re not making these decisions alone and that you, their trusted professional, are there to guide them. If they know that you will provide them with information about their options and help them through the decision process, they will feel much better about the process and the outcome.

2. Acknowledgement and appreciation.

Surprising though it may sound, some of your clients may still have the same needs and desires they had as children. Like so many adults, they may find it deeply meaningful, for example, for their parents to recognize and appreciate them. Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself.

Stepping up to the plate to handle the challenge of caring for elderly parents with grace and clarity is an admirable initiative. You might remind your clients that their aging parents are likely to recognize and appreciate the effort and to see them as caring and helpful.

If, on the other hand, your client confides that their aging parent does not appreciate their help, you can lend support by affirming, “Your parents are lucky to have a daughter like you who is making so much effort on their behalf. It’s generous and impressive.”

3. Efficient use of family resources.

Fear is a tremendous obstacle for grown children considering caring for their aging parents. And of all the concerns that get in the way, the fear of spending too much money, or spending it in the wrong ways, is perhaps the most powerful.

By explaining how your suggestions will help your client and their parents save money and time, you might strike just the right chord.

Mark, for example, was an only child responsible for managing the finances and health-care decisions for his mother, who was beginning to lose her capacity to pay her bills on time. When he started evaluating potential planners, cost considerations were important to him, but so was time, because he frequently traveled out of town.

One planner demonstrated her respect for his time by meeting Mark’s mother within a few days and generating a plan by the end of the following week. Even though her hourly fee was a bit more than others, Mark was impressed by her efficient use of their time and hired her.

4. Wanting parents to lead a long, healthy life.

Many people are concerned with their elderly parents’ safety and health, especially as these relate to their longevity. So they engage in elaborate plans that they hope will lead to their parent’s longevity. This can make them highly focused on how to increase their parent’s safety, and averse to any risk for their parents, such as driving or living alone.

Safety is a significant issue for any aging person. What might seem easy to most—climbing a flight of stairs, driving to the grocery store—can be life-threatening to seniors. The challenge for children of aging parents is to balance the importance of safety with the desires of the aging parent themselves, and their quality of life. A nursing home might be safer, but does it provide the freedom and control that most seniors crave?

When clients come to you with issues related to ensuring safety and security for their elderly parent, you might want to talk with them about options for helping to keep the parent safe–appealing to their desire to keep their parents’ safe and healthy. There are many ways to do this, such as through in-home care that ensures an elderly parent is eating well and living in a clean environment; through financial measures to prevent them from being scammed; or by providing companion care to drive them to stores, appointments, and social events.

5. A quest for value.

You may have clients who are incredibly anxious about the prospect of overpaying for in-home care services that will help their aging parents. They might be concerned that even services with a high-end price tag don’t measure up to their promise of being “the best.”

Unfortunately, the “penny wise, pound foolish” mindset can lead people to choose less-than-ideal services. This comes with its own set of risks, such as the dangers associated with receiving low-quality care, or the unexpected, additional costs of switching providers again and again — which often happens when quality is low.

The best way to handle this type of client is to explain these pitfalls, noting that the best value may appear more costly up front but will prove far more cost-effective over time.

6. Nothing but the best will do.

For some clients, the most important desire is that their aging parent gets the very best of care. This can be coming from a place of immense affection for their aging parent, or it can be a knee-jerk reaction reflecting how their family has always operated. Some clients may also like the look and feel of “the very best,” for their image and self-esteem.

These clients respond positively when they learn of services that aren’t for everyone. In these cases, let them know, point blank, that specific options are high-end. That might give them just the right impetus.

How to get your client to act.

Once you have talked to your client and determined which desires and concerns motivate them most in caring for their aging parent, you will know how best to present your services in a way that resonates with them. You will know, for instance, to highlight the efficient use of resources, safety issues or the high-end quality of specific approaches.

Then, they will sense the connection between your suggestions and their own needs — and will ultimately be more compelled to act.

If your client remains stuck while dealing with the needs of their aging parent, you may need to propose they have a conversation with other professionals, too. Remember: the situation they are facing is daunting and complicated. Nobody is supposed to go down the path of helping elderly parents alone.

In fact, it often takes a team that includes estate planning attorneys, financial planners, accountants, physicians and geriatric care managers. Together, this team can help your clients and their parents take action, devise a comprehensive care plan for the parent’s future, and satisfy every family member’s desires for success.

The sooner your client takes action, the sooner they can head off problems, prevent suffering, and improve their parent’s life.

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Steven Barlam

Author Steven Barlam

Steven Barlam, MSW, LCSW, CMC is the Chief Professional Officer and Co-Founder of LivHOME. Since 1985, Steve has worked exclusively in the field of geriatrics, working directly with clients and their families, and developing innovative service delivery models. He has served as President of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. Steve is a regular lecturer at local universities and national conferences on topics relating to care management, technology, and patient/client care.

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