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 life lessons early in their children’s lives. But when the children become adults, parents still maintain a desire to teach them. It’s in their parental DNA.
What’s also in their parental predisposition is to protect their children from discomfort. Unfortunately, that can lead to an awareness gap—a chasm really—where older adults do not share enough information about their health with their children or chosen families. At the same time, families often struggle to connect on care plans, finances, insurance coverage and other issues.
Recognizing how often Synergy HomeCare franchisees and industry professionals work to facilitate constructive conversations about short- and long-term care options, we wanted to provide further insight on why this disconnect occurs. Synergy’s goal in this educational effort is to allow older adults to have the confidence to live a fuller and happier life.
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 older adults have 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, adult children are wired to focus on the well-being of their own kids. Therefore they seemingly only react and help their parents when a crisis occurs.
Then we surveyed nearly 140 Synergy HomeCare clients—evenly split between older adults and adult children—and gained even greater insight.
The Parental Predisposition to Protect
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. But this desire often backfires. Our survey found that 40 percent of adult children felt a strain in their relationship with their parents when planning for their future care. Additionally, 64 percent of adult children who felt a strain in their relationship with their older loved one also found it to be at least somewhat difficult to have a conversation about that loved one’s future care plans.
Only about 50 percent of survey respondents felt well-prepared for a care crisis with their parents.
When we initially looked at other responses, we were heartened to see that almost all of those surveyed on both sides indicated they had had previous conversations about older loved ones’ wills, trusts and advanced directives. But, 80 percent of the adult children we surveyed said they had not discussed or revised these documents in the past two years. Likewise, it is common for families to delay revisiting their older loved one’s will, trust or advanced directive.
Adult Children Naturally Focus on Their Kids
Much 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 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 be prepared in the event of a crisis, or avoid one entirely. Based on Synergy HomeCare’s findings, only about 50 percent 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 elders plan for aging—and many admit they have started too late—they want to make sure their children do more planning than they did. We have found that Synergy HomeCare clients are having these important conversations with their children, which suggests that the coming generations of older Americans may be more prepared.
As mentioned earlier, aging is part of life journey and older parents are taking advantage of this teaching moment. It is great to see that 75 percent of surveyed older adults believe their adult children or loved ones are more prepared for their own care planning, as compared to their experiences. At the same time, 70 percent of those adult children have started their preparations for later life after doing so with older loved ones. More than half of this group also has started to discuss these plans with their kids.
While the psychological phenomena contributing to a communication gap between adult children and older 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.
Charlie Young is the CEO of SYNERGY HomeCare, which is headquartered in Gilbert, Ariz.