Aging is one of the biggest inevitabilities of life, but still, we’re almost never prepared for it. This disconnect is probably one of the biggest hurdles for ourselves and our aging loved ones, and very often, it isn’t properly acknowledged or addressed. At SYNERGY HomeCare, we have called this the “awareness chasm.” A recent collaboration with Anne Asman, MS, a Gerontologist at the University of Utah, helps to explain the reasons behind this phenomenon.
What is the “Awareness Chasm?"
This chasm is the grey area that exists between adult children and their older parents when it comes to discussing and informing each other about the aging process. Both groups have two different views on the subject and many times it can be difficult to communicate these differences to the other party. As a result, many things are left unsaid which can delay when and how aging parents get the care they need. In a SYNERGY HomeCare survey of approximately 150 clients and their adult children, over 40% of adult children reported a strain in their relationships with their loved ones as a result of this difficulty communicating.
According to Charlie Young, CEO of SYNERGY HomeCare, the survey was an important tool to help improve care for aging adults. “We’ve witnessed the stressors that adult children face in caring for their parents and we wanted to gain insight into those challenges. Our goal is to allow our aging loved ones to have the confidence to live a fuller and happier life.”
The Reasons Behind the Chasm
The Parental Predisposition to Protect
According to Asman, a key reason for the disconnect between parent and child is that older parents will often attempt to protect their children from difficult or potentially heavy decisions, including discussing their own needs and feelings, future care plans or talks about finances or advanced directives. Very often, these topics are avoided entirely or downplayed by the parents for fear of burdening their children.
According to the survey:
- Over 80% of adult children have not discussed or revised their parents’ will, trust, or advanced directive in over two years, despite experts recommending to do so at least once a year.
- 44% of adult children said it was difficult to have conversations about care plans with their parents.
Adult Children Have Different Priorities
Similar to how older parents are focused on the well-being of their adult children, those children also naturally focus on their own younger kids. Asman says that this natural focus creates a missing piece in our ability to understand the needs of Mom and Dad, who typically receive less attention as the adult children build families of their own with more immediate priorities. This is often the reason that older parents don’t receive proper care or attention until a crisis arises or until there is already a dramatic decline.
According to the survey:
- 65% of adult respondents weren’t motivated to begin their aging loved ones’ care plans until after they already noticed a decline and/or a crisis situation occurred.
- Only about 50% of adult children feel well-prepared if something were to suddenly threaten their parents’ well-being.
Aging Adults Want to Continue Teaching
Even though their children are adults, Mom and Dad never want to stop teaching their kids. The lessons learned from the aging process are no exception, as Mom and Dad are often willing to approach this in tandem with their children so they can be better prepared when the time comes to do so themselves. An overwhelming 75% of older respondents believe that their children will be better prepared for their own old age than they were, as a result of this cooperation.
In order to properly address and avoid the awareness chasm, the ultimate solution is better communication. Asman says, “Adult children and their aging parents will need enhanced communication to better align. As more families make decisions on how their older loved ones can age in place, the relationship between adult children and their aging loved ones needs to evolve to prevent delays in providing appropriate care.”