What’s the best life lesson your parents taught you? Maybe it was that honesty is the best policy. Or that there is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Or perhaps the value of adopting the practice of treating others as you would want to be treated.
Typically, parents front-load a lot of their life lessons early in their children’s lives – while they are still technically children. But even after their kids become full-fledged adults, parents still maintain a desire to teach their children. It’s in their parental DNA.
What’s also in their parental predisposition is to protect their children from anything uncomfortable. That can lead to an awareness gap – a chasm really – where aging loved ones do not share enough information about their health with their kids. At the same time, families often struggle to connect on care plans, finances, insurance coverage and other issues.
Recognizing how often our SYNERGY HomeCare franchisees and industry professionals work to facilitate constructive conversations about current and long-term care options, we wanted to provide further insight for consumers on why the disconnect occurs. By doing so, our goal is to allow our aging loved ones to have the confidence to live fuller and happier lives. Learn more.
We worked with ASA member Anne Asman, a gerontologist at the University of Utah’s Department of Psychiatry to dig a little deeper into the psychological factors contributing to this awareness chasm. We found that seniors possess a biological predisposition to protect their children. Thus the standard line, “I don’t want to be a burden to my kids.” At the same time, their adult children are wired to focus on the wellbeing of their own kids. They therefore seemingly only react to assist Mom and Dad in a crisis.
To help even further, we did a survey of nearly 140 SYNERGY HomeCare clients – evenly split between senior and adult children – and gained even greater insight.
The parental predisposition to protect
As a part of their parental instinct, older adults tend to downplay any issues with their health in an attempt to avoid becoming a burden and to protect their families from the stress of aging. However, this desire often backfires. Our survey found that 40% of adult children felt a strain in their relationship with their parents when planning for their future care. Additionally, 64% of adult children who felt a strain in their relationship with their aging loved one also found it to be at least somewhat difficult to have a conversation about their parents’ future care plans.
When we initially looked at other responses, we were heartened to see that almost all on both sides indicated they had had previous conversations about their aging loved ones’ wills, trusts and advanced directives. However, 80% of the adult children we surveyed said they had not discussed or revised these documents in the last two years. Likewise, it is common for families to delay revisiting their aging loved ones' will, trust, or advanced directive.
Adult children naturally focus on their kids
Just like their parents, adult children face a natural predisposition to focus on their own children and spouse above all else.
Because their focus is on their immediate family, adult children may not be fully aware of their parents’ health conditions. This means they have not been prompted to evaluate care options and how they could be ready in the event of a crisis, or even to avoid one. Based on SYNERGY HomeCare’s findings, only about 50% of respondents reported feeling well-prepared if something were to happen that would suddenly threaten their parents' well-being.
A life lesson that comes later in life
They say that with age comes wisdom. As seniors plan for their own aging – and by many accounts, they admit they started too late – they want to make sure that their children do more planning than they did. We have found that SYNERGY HomeCare clients are having these important conversations with their children – meaning that the coming generations of older Americans may likely be more prepared.
As I said earlier, aging is part of a parent’s life journey and they are taking advantage of this teaching moment. It is great to see that 75% of surveyed seniors believe that their adult children/loved ones are more prepared for their own care planning, as compared to their own experiences. At the same time, 70% of the adult children have started their own aging preparations after doing so with Mom and Dad. More than half of this group has also started to communicate these plans with their own kids.
While the psychological phenomena contributing to a communication gap between adult children and their aging parents may not be widely discussed, they are far from uncommon. By delving deeper into the subject, we might be able to help families adapt. As all of us in the industry work to communicate the importance of having these critical conversations, we may be able to shrink the awareness chasm and, maybe someday, eliminate it for good.