Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Huge efforts will be taken to avoid politics at the table, no doubt. We’re also faced with the fact that time goes on without us, and our parents may have deteriorated since the last time we saw them. Vision problems and arthritis pain can set in quickly, and as a result, household obligations may go unfulfilled.

Here are some red flags that might indicate a change is needed:

  • There are piles of unopened mail.
  • There has been a service interruption of a utility due to non-payment.
  • Mom or dad is slower to react to things.
  • The house is dirty, perhaps because they can’t see it.
  • Yard work needs to be done.
  • You suspect a caregiver is taking advantage of them.

I would resist the temptation to try to cram “the talk” with mom and/or dad into your holiday ritual — but it may still be a good setting for the siblings to talk. Try not to revert back to those kids who were constantly fighting! Go out and have a cocktail or a coffee with them and talk about things like who should be the power of attorney and how the bills should be paid.

When you do end up talking to your parents, use “I” sentences like, I worry about the bills not getting paid, as opposed to, you don’t pay your bills! Try not to berate or reprimand them. The right approach is to be helpful and understanding because it is incredibly frustrating for them. 

My mother was 89 years old when she moved herself to an independent living facility. After getting back from the store one time, she called me to say she was upset that she couldn’t drive anymore. The way I put it to her was, “You know mom, you really are a good driver and you’ve always been a good driver, but it’s really the other people I worry about. And maybe your reactions aren’t as quick as they used to be, so I don’t think it’s a bad idea for you not to be driving. I think that’s really a plus. Think about how you’d feel if you hurt somebody else.”

For their part, parents need to be open with their children. That means sharing your sensitive information with them. In the older generations, a lot of parents don’t want to tell their children about their finances. That really doesn’t help anyone — at all. Everyone needs to come together and realize that often the most uncomfortable conversations are the most beneficial.